'We're here for a reason': Canadiens ready to seize moment against Lightning in Stanley Cup final
Habs set for 1st Cup final since 1993 with chance to end Canada's 28-year drought
The Montreal Canadiens appreciate the magnitude of the task awaiting them in the Stanley Cup final. Their opponents, the Tampa Bay Lightning, are defending Stanley Cup Champions.
They boast four lines that can score, arguably the best blueliner in the National Hockey League and an elite netminder in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Tampa forward Nikita Kucherov leads the Stanley Cup playoffs with 27 points. His centre, Brayden Point, is the top playoff goal-scorer with 14.
"You look up and down their lineup," says pesky Montreal Canadiens forward Corey Perry. "They have a world-class goalie. Then, you have one of the top defenceman in the league in Victor Hedman and the list goes on with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.
"You can talk about them all day long. We're excited for this opportunity. We're here for a reason."
Indeed. The Canadiens may have been the lowest-seeded team in the playoffs, but they've already upset No. 6 Toronto, No. 14 Winnipeg and No. 2 Las Vegas. They're not inclined to feel intimidated, no matter what the experts say.
'We're very confident'
"I think we believe that we aren't the underdog," says assistant coach Luke Richardson, who is filling in behind the bench with Dominique Ducharme in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. "We're very confident in ourselves and what we've accomplished."
Puck drops for Game 1 tonight at 8 p.m. ET in Tampa, Fla., (CBC, CBCSports.ca) with the Lightning attempting to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2016 and 2017. The Canadiens are suiting up for their first Stanley Cup final since 1993.
They can end Canada's 28-year Stanley Cup drought and perhaps repeat the magic of their last run when Patrick Roy and the Canadiens upset Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.
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"It's surreal," says Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin. "Everything that happened throughout the season — from the first day of camp, to getting hit by COVID, to being down 3-1 against the Leafs, to moving on and where we are today — it's very special.
The Canadiens are built from the goalie on out with the sensational Carey Price in net. Price is coming off a shaky regular season, but his playoff numbers are impressive with a goals-against average of 2.02 and save percentage of .934.
"He's a big-game player," Bergevin says. "In big moments, like the Olympics, he was outstanding. I was part of the management group at the World Cup, he was outstanding. When the game is on the line … I think they had a poll at some point in the past, if you need a big game to win, who would you want to be your goaltender. It's Carey Price."
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On defence, captain Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot, Joel Edmundson and Jeff Petry punish the opposition and grind them down. They're big, physical and mean.
Las Vegas gamebreaker Mark Stone experienced similar frustration without a single point against Montreal in the Stanley Cup semifinal. Led up front by checking centre Phillip Danault, the Canadiens haven't surrendered a power-play goal in 13 consecutive playoff games, killing 30 straight since Game 5 against Toronto.
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That will be key against the Lightning, who are a lethal 20-for-53 (37.7 per cent) with the man-advantage in the postseason.
"They sacrifice," Point says of the Canadiens. "They block shots. So we're going to have to be sharp."
So will Montreal.
"Just live the moment and enjoy it," says Perry, 36. "Take on this wild ride and have fun with it, because you don't know when that next chance is really going to happen ever again."
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