MONTREAL — Dominique Ducharme and the Montreal Canadiens have been in this spot before, facing elimination with little to no room for error.
Only this time, it might be their most daunting task yet.
The Canadiens have lost the first three games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final and must win four straight or see the clock strike midnight on their Cinderella playoff run. That quest begins when they host Game 4 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Ducharme, the Canadiens coach, is holding up the Stanley Cup First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs as an example of what Montreal is capable of with its back against the wall. The Canadiens trailed the series yet came back to win the final three elimination games to advance.
“We said the same thing in the series against Toronto,” Ducharme said Saturday. “First of all, you can’t look too far ahead. You look at the mountain and it looks pretty high, but there are steps you have to take. The first step for us is we have a game to win at home.”
The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team to win the Stanley Cup after losing the first three games of a best-of-7 final. The 1975 New York Islanders, 2010 Philadelphia Flyers and 2014 Los Angeles Kings accomplished the feat in earlier rounds.
One thing the Canadiens do have going for them: They have voices inside the dressing room that can speak to the firsthand experience of being part of such a comeback.
Forward Tyler Toffoli was with the Kings when they came back against the San Jose Sharks in the first round seven years ago. Ducharme was the coach of Halifax in 2012, when it came back to win its Quebec Major Junior Hockey League quarterfinal series against Quebec after losing the first three games. Forward Nick Suzuki was with Guelph when it did the same against London in the second round of the 2019 Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
The odds are overwhelming against Montreal. But as Ducharme pointed out, in this most bizarre and strange NHL season, the Canadiens already have overcome a number of obstacles they could have never foreseen.
“There hasn’t been anything normal about our season,” he said. “There hasn’t been anything normal about the playoffs, either. Things have happened to us that haven’t happened to anybody else.”
Ducharme’s media availability Saturday was a prime example of that.
He returned to coach the Canadiens in Game 3, a 6-3 loss Friday, following a 14-day quarantine after he tested positive for COVID-19 on June 18. Now here he was fielding a question about if there were any thoughts about replacing goalie Carey Price with backup Jake Allen for Game 4.
Normal times? That he was being asked about possibly benching Montreal’s franchise goalie in its first Cup Final appearance in 28 years shows these times are anything but.
Yes, Price is 0-3 with a 4.39 goals-against average and an .835 save percentage (13 goals on 79 shots) in the final, a far cry from the first three rounds, when he was 12-5 with a 2.02 GAA, .934 save percentage and one shutout in 17 games. The solution: He needs to play better, just like everyone else in the lineup.
It’s not like these Canadiens are strangers to adversity. They’ve played for three coaches this season. Claude Julien was fired Feb. 24 and replaced by Ducharme. When Ducharme was in quarantine, assistant Luke Richardson was in charge.
Montreal had four regular-season games postponed from March 22-28 when forwards Joel Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were placed in COVID-19 protocol. It finished the regular season with 25 games in 44 days.
When it comes to overcoming obstacles, these Canadiens are experts. Now comes their biggest test.
“We’re facing something different,” Ducharme said. “We’ll use the experience we’ve acquired.
“We aren’t ready to pack it in. We’re going to fight. That’s what we want to do on Monday night to get the win.”