MONTREAL – These are crazy people playing a crazy game under crazy circumstances flying into crazy weather in an attempt to pull off the craziest upset of all.
Consider, for a minute, the gauntlet these Montreal Canadiens have run, the odds they’ve bucked to claw within a three-game winning streak of winning it all.
As the 18th-placed regular-season team, they only barely qualified for the post-season, finishing with a negative goal differential (minus-9) and two fewer wins than a non-playoff squad in their own division (Calgary).
They fired one coach and lost another to a two-week quarantine at the most important time of year. Their interim needed an interim.
One of their most celebrated (and criticized) hometown stars, Jonathan Drouin, left the scene after 44 games and two goals for personal reasons.
Their leading scorer from 2019-20, Tomas Tatar, is working on a sixth consecutive week of healthy scratches and will likely never wear bleu, blanc et rouge again.
And in the midst of a virus smashing their schedule into a 63-games-in-137-days marathon, they’ve somehow survived a 3-1 series deficit to Toronto and a 1-0 hole to Vegas.
It is helpful to remind yourself of where these Canadiens have been to understand their unflustered response to where they’re going Tuesday: a private jet into the eye of Tropical Storm Elsa, set to knock Tampa with severe gales, heavy rainfall and flash flooding.
“Backs against the wall, wind in our face,” Phillip Danault said.
Danault was talking about hockey, but with the metaphorical turning literal, coach Dominique Ducharme is shrugging it off like a guy who won’t bother packing an umbrella for Game 5.
“Yeah, it's no surprise anymore. I think anything that happens right now and for a while, we just take it and look at it, and say it's probably part of our destiny,” Ducharme said Tuesday morning.
“It's been crazy. But we're a crazy bunch of guys in here, and we're going to take that challenge.”
Meeting that challenge will require a recipe similar to the one Montreal followed on Monday: punishing physical play on Tampa’s star forwards, superb penalty killing, scoring the first goal, and Carey Price acting like it’s gold, not silver, on the line.
Do all that and, hey, maybe we’ll see Tampa mayor Jane Castor wishing for the Lightning to lose Game 6 at Bell Centre so they can win the Stanley Cup at home in Game 7.
“You never know,” Montreal icon Guy Lafleur told Ron MacLean Monday night. “The confidence builds up, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
One win is enough to save face, but not enough to plant doubt in a champion like the Lightning. But two wins? That’s another story.
“A victory in Tampa could have this effect even more,” Ducharme said. “We want to come back to play at the Bell Centre for one last game.”
Yet in a Canadiens season when the unthinkable has become commonplace, stealing a game in Tampa seems perfectly within reason at this point.
“This whole season has been kind of chaotic, kind of hectic. We’ve kind of gone through everything, between COVID, the way we played some nights to everything,” Corey Perry said. “And now, yeah, you're right, we are potentially going into a hurricane.
“Dom said it right: We’re a crazy bunch of people. This is fun to do it here in Montreal, to have the city behind us, to be one of the last two teams standing. You know, this is what you dream of as a kid.”
You can’t write this stuff. But, go ahead: Dream it.
• Ducharme stopped short of guaranteeing he’ll roll with the same lineup in Game 5 as the one that extended his season Monday night, but bet on Jake Evans (one assist, two hits, drew a penalty on Brayden Point), Alexander Romanov (first playoff goal) and Brett Kulak sticking. “Obviously, those guys did a good job. There's a good chance we're going back with the same lineup,” Ducharme said.
• Injured Alex Killorn took part in Tampa’s warmup skate Monday but has yet to see game action since blocking a Jeff Petry blast with his left foot in Game 1. Asked for the umpteenth time if Killorn could dress for Game 5, coach Jon Cooper invoked the great Lloyd Christmas.
“There's always a chance,” Cooper said. “Always a chance. What's that movie? 'You're saying there's a chance?' Dumb and Dumber? Yeah, there's a chance he plays. But a lot of it's going to be up to Killer and how he feels, and so we'll see tomorrow."
• With Shea Weber in the box serving his double minor, nasty penalty killers Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson played the first 3:20 of overtime in Game 4 — thanks in part to Cooper’s calling a timeout and unintentionally giving them a breath.
“They're just beasts,” Evans said. “Those two guys, you don't want to be in front of the net with them. You don't want to be anywhere near them. I wouldn't want to be battling against them. They've just been really tough to play against.”
• The longer the series goes, the more certain we are that Nikita Kucherov wins the Conn Smythe.