The Montreal Canadiens say a change to their coaching staff in the middle of the postseason should not hinder their chances of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
Assistant coach Luke Richardson was an emergency replacement Friday for coach Dominique Ducharme, who earlier in the day tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolated from the team hours before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Richardson, assisted by director of goaltending Sean Burke and Alexandre Burrows, helped the Canadiens to a 3-2 overtime win, giving them the lead in the best-of-7 series. They will coach Game 4 in Montreal on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“So a little different with a new person back there,” Montreal center Eric Staal said Saturday. “But they did a great job, and if it’s going to be Luke for a while yet in that situation, we’re comfortable with that. We’re all in this together and we’ll be prepared again for Game 4.”
The Canadiens are two wins from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993, when they won the championship.
Richardson had no update on Ducharme, who is working with the staff and players on game preparation via videoconference. So for Game 4 and likely Game 5, at least, Richardson, Burke and Burrows, with input from general manager Marc Bergevin, will run the team.
“Everybody knows the situation,” Staal said. “Credit to them for preparing us the right way and being cool, calm on the bench, making sure we had the right people on at the right times. We’ve all kind of felt comfortable in the roles that we’ve been given and guys know who’s usually up at certain times. But there’s obviously a lot of things that go on during the course of the game.”
Nick Suzuki said he’s learned much from Richardson throughout the season.
“You can see how hard he works,” said the forward, who in his second NHL season. “He’s probably in the gym more than some of the players. He’s been a great coach for me. I’ve learned a lot from him. I kind of only get to talk to him on the [penalty kill], but he’s taught us a lot. He was great behind the bench last game.”
Richardson lauded the Canadiens veterans and their strong collective voice that’s inspiring others on and off the ice.
“We have a real good thing going with the group, those (veteran) guys definitely lead the way, but they bring everybody with them,” Richardson said. “They’re vocal and they pick you up and bring you with them. You can see the other players going with them and being vocal as well.”
Richardson spread the credit for the playoff success around the lineup, saying the younger players are following the lead of the veterans.
“Corey Perry has been great all year as a leader and a veteran and a winner,” he said. “That’s bringing so much to us right now. And you can’t say enough about Shea [Weber]. He’s our leader, our captain back there.”
Perry has scored eight points (three goals, five assists) in 14 playoff games. Weber, a defenseman, is tied with defenseman Ben Chiarot for the Canadiens lead with an average ice time of 25:49 per game. Staal has scored seven points (one goal, six assists) in 13 games.
“We’re generally a pretty quiet team,” Richardson said. “I’ve been here for three years (as an assistant coach under Claude Julien and Ducharme), and I can feel the confidence growing not just in our game but in our personalities on the bench, speaking up and not being that shy guy anymore.
“It’s about taking charge right now and those guys have done a great job. I know Sean Burke said ‘Webby’ was amazing (in Game 3), as he always is back there, helping run the show. That’s what we rely on. It really is the players’ time right now. We try to give them a little bit of guidance, but sometimes the players give the coaches a little guidance and help as well.”