The Montreal Canadiens believe they are trending in the right direction in the Stanley Cup Final despite losing the first two games of the best-of-7 series to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Forward Cole Caufield said the Canadiens can draw from the experience of when they rallied from down 3-1 to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup First Round and bouncing back from a Game 1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights for a six-game win in the Stanley Cup Semifinals.
“There’s just no panic in this room,” Caufield said Thursday. “I think we’ve been here before and we’ve got great leadership in the room to keep our emotions intact, and I think that’s how we’re going forward with this.”
Game 3 is in Montreal on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Montreal forward Eric Staal was in his second season with the Carolina Hurricanes when they won the first two games of the 2006 Final. The Edmonton Oilers pushed the series to the limit before the Hurricanes won Game 7 to win the Cup.
“The series is still a long way from being over,” Staal said. “Clearly, I remember that, being on the other side obviously you feel good with the 2-0 lead but it’s the race to four wins. And for us, Game 3 is a massive game, and everybody knows that.”
Staal and forwards Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks, 2007) and Tyler Toffoli (Los Angeles Kings, 2014) bring their voices and experience as Stanley Cup champions along with defenseman Joel Edmundson and goalie Jake Allen, who won the Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019.
“There’s always moments in playoffs where you, as a group, need to lean on some experience and lean on guys that have been around a while and been through certain situations,” Staal said. “So no question, it’s important. But it’s also important for each of us individually to prepare the right way to have the right mindset to come out with a win in Game 3.”
Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme is expected to return Friday. Montreal has gone 3-3 in six games under assistant Luke Richardson since Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19 prior to Game 3 of the semifinals.
“You dream and you work your whole life to be in a Stanley Cup Final,” Staal said. “And for him to have missed the first two (games), it’s been tough. But I know he’s been with us through the Zoom and all the pre-scout stuff and doing meetings that way, but to be with us in person will be huge for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
Richardson said he felt the Canadiens had a better effort in Game 2, noting mistakes that led to two Lightning goals were very correctible.
“I thought we played a lot harder physically and the battle level was higher,” Richardson said. “Now we’ve just got to compete at the same level and push to finish a little bit better and maybe score that first goal, play with the lead in this series and see where it takes us.”
To get that elusive first lead, Montreal will have to solve Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has allowed two goals on 62 shots (.968 save percentage) in the series.
“I don’t think you need the perfect shot right now in this situation,” Caufield said. “We’ve got to stick to what works and that’s doing the right things that we can and what we can control. Getting people in front of him so he can’t see it [the puck], getting rebounds, getting guys to the net and stuff like that, just winning our battles.
“Obviously he’s a really special goaltender and someone that’s really hot right now. So we’ve just got to keep finding ways to get it past him and I’m sure at some point we will.”