TAMPA, Fla. — If Dominique Ducharme is going to tether his hope to anything, as his Canadiens prepared to stave off the end of their season for a fifth of what will ultimately have to be seven times in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, choosing something intangible is apropos.
It was Tuesday, before flying into Tampa on a collision course with Tropical Storm Elsa, that he uttered the D-word — destiny — and why not? Why wouldn’t the coach of a team that’s been through as much as the Canadiens have this year believe it’s destined to have to overcome its steepest challenge yet in order to achieve its ultimate goal?
Ducharme can place his faith in Carey Price, in his penalty kill’s staggering efficiency, in the physicality and determination of his top-four defencemen and the variety of attack his forwards offer, but none of that guarantees it’ll be enough to beat the Lightning at Amalie Arena in Game 5 on Wednesday. It was barely enough to beat them at the Bell Centre on Monday.
Ducharme knows the Canadiens can be the best version of themselves in every remaining moment of this Final, but he also knows it’ll still require some cosmic force for them to become the second team in history to come back from down 3-0. If Game 4 wasn’t an illustration of how many things need to go your way just to win a game on this stage, we don’t know what is.
It was full of written-in-the-stars occurrences, from Alex Romanov playing just his third playoff game — his first since Game 1 of the Vegas series — and contributing a goal despite only coming up with one in 54 games of the regular season, to Conn Smythe favourite Nikita Kucherov having the Cup-winning goal on his stick in the dying moments and tapping it off the post to miss out on recording his playoff-leading 33rd point, and the Canadiens felt it.
It was Josh Anderson, the overtime hero in Game 4, who said, after the Canadiens saluted the 3,500 fans who saw them punch through the coffin at the Bell Centre, that the team had a premonition it would come through.
Who’s to say that wasn’t just as relevant as the two goals he scored to make it happen?
"We didn't want to end it tonight in front of our fans,” Anderson said. “We expected to go to Tampa (Tuesday). I think everybody in that locker room did, you know. Packed our bags (Monday) afternoon. Just had that feeling that we were going to win tonight and give ourselves a chance.”
Brendan Gallagher had been at the podium right before him, talking about how the Canadiens have accepted that everything about 2021 had set them on this course, about how every event made it clear nothing would come easy and that this was how it was meant to be.
That can be a powerful mindset when it’s contagious. It’s the one the Canadiens need to carry with them until the end.
It doesn’t change the reality of them needing to do all the right things to give themselves their best chance to continue playing, to inch closer to the possibility of raising their 25th Cup.
The Canadiens won the battle in front of both nets in Game 4, struck first, capitalized on their best chances, made the right plays at the right times and got the saves when they didn’t, and they made it harder for Tampa’s best players than it had been through the first three games.
Of course, their focus has to be on continuing that.
“We’ve talked about wearing teams down,” said Corey Perry on Tuesday. “It's a long series, you're playing every other night, and, you know, guys have been playing a lot of minutes, both sides of the rink. We've talked about that since Day 1, since we started that first game against Toronto. Every night, you have to continue to do the small little things. Keep putting the puck in deep, banging the body. It takes a toll on guys and that's just our mindset.”
But the Canadiens’ outlook guides that. It guides everything they do, and it should.
If they’re a team that truly believes things were supposed to have gone this way and that this was always meant to be their path, that’s a healthier way of dealing with this adversity than getting bogged down in the astronomical odds they’re facing.
So, they’re leaning into that, with their backs against the wall and the wind in their face, as Phillip Danault put it after Monday’s game.
Ducharme is, too.
“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,'” he said. “It's been crazy. But we're a crazy bunch of guys in here, and we're going to take that challenge.”
It’s as valid a place to look for hope as anywhere else the coach would turn at this stage.