Canadiens scratch Kotkaniemi, juggle lineup for Game 4 vs. Lightning

Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme explained the conversation he had with Jesperi Kotkaniemi on why he was being scratched in such an important game in the Stanley Cup Final.

MONTREAL — Jesperi Kotkaniemi may finish the playoffs the way he started them: in a suit and dress shoes.

Kotkaniemi’s healthy scratch, in favour of Jake Evans, for the most important game of the Montreal Canadiens’ season is not the only lineup change Dominique Ducharme is making Monday.

Facing a do-or-die Game 4 and desperate to generate offence, Montreal’s interim head coach has juggled his top three forward lines and completely overhauled his third defence pairing.

“It’s not a punishment. Every player wants to play, wants to be on the ice. That’s normal. We have 28 guys right now, and they all want to be on the ice,” Ducharme explained.

“We like KK. He played the 75 games this year, he's been showing good progression, he had a good stretch in the playoffs. It doesn’t mean that [because] he’s not playing tonight he won’t be back.

“He's a good team guy. He understands the situation, even though nobody wants to sit.”

With even-strength goals so difficult to come by in this series, a point of emphasis for Montreal has been its middling power-play, which has only cashed in once on Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Kotkaniemi doesn’t have a power-play point in the post-season.

Staring at elimination on home ice, here is how Montreal’s lineup will look for Game 4:

Toffoli – Danault - Gallagher
Caufield – Suzuki - Anderson
Byron – Evans - Lehkonen
Armia – Staal - Perry

Chiarot - Weber
Edmundson - Petry
Romanov - Kulak


Inserting Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak — and sitting Erik Gustafsson and Jon Merrill — will bring more "dynamic skaters" on the Habs’ back end, Ducharme believes.

Romanov, 21, has participated in just two games all post-season and is a minus-2. Kulak has played 11 games, contributing one assist and going minus-4.

"That's the nice thing about our team: We have the depth that we can bring guys in, and nothing really changes,” defenceman Joel Edmundson said. “We're excited to get Kuly and Romy back in the lineup."

Ducharme is banking on a third line of Paul Byron, Evans and Artturi Lehkonen to inject a jolt of energy to the group.

"Speed. Can play against top lines. They showed it against [Connor] McDavid in two games," Ducharme said. "Brought offence at the same time. Brings energy. Many things."

The Tampa Bay Lightning, too, is reserving the right to tinker with its lineup.

The injured Alex Killorn participated in Monday’s morning skate, his first hard test on a left foot he injured extending to blocking a Jeff Petry shot in Game 1.

Tampa coach Jon Cooper said Killorn is "definitely inching his way closer" to being ready but will likely be a game-time decision.

Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. ET at Bell Centre.

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