Facing elimination, Canadiens hint at changes: ‘We’re not finished yet’

Montreal Canadiens forward Josh Anderson explained how the team is trying to stay positive and keep things light ahead of Game 4 versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.

MONTREAL – The chirping is the best part.

The NHL’s mini docuseries Quest for the Stanley Cup reveals behind-the-scenes footage and mic’d-up moments from these intense playoff battles, and the chirping almost always is the best part. A refreshing dash of colour to contrast the buttoned-down formality of the daily Zoom conference.

In one particularly enjoyable moment from Friday’s episode, which gathers footage from Game 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup final, Tampa Bay Lightning fourth-liner Patrick Maroon is laying into Montreal Canadiens winger Josh Anderson, ironically calling him “tough guy” a couple times before hitting the well-compensated Anderson with the zinger:

“You have the same amount of points as me, buddy. It’s embarrassing,” Maroon says, with glee. “The same amount of points as me! Ha-ha!”

Even if Maroon’s claim isn’t exactly accurate (Maroon has three playoff points to Anderson’s four), every joke contains a nugget of truth.

The Canadiens are getting thwacked 14-5 through three games in this slanted Final, and Anderson is just one of many Montreal weapons with doughnuts on the scoresheet.

So difficult to come by are quality 5-on-5 chances that Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme opted instead to drill down on power-play work Sunday in what threatens to be the club’s final practice of the season.

“We needed to take that time to work on our power play. Sometimes during a round or toward the end of the year, it was hard to do because we didn't have time. And if we have two power plays tomorrow, we want to make the most out of them,” Ducharme explained.

“We can’t say we’ve had a lot of production there.”

Whistles have largely gone quiet in the series thus far, with Tampa’s elite 5-on-4 group cashing in on two of seven power plays. Montreal has one power-play strike in six attempts and has been operating at 20.4 per cent in the post-season.

Ducharme swapped out defenceman Erik Gustafasson on the point of the top unit in favour of Jeff Petry. Petry is gaining strength and confidence in his shot, firing nine pucks on net in the past two games.

“Have a positive attitude, still have fun coming into this rink every day and not hang our heads,” Petry said. “We have a big challenge ahead of us. We’ve had a challenging year all year. Just to come in and enjoy it every day has been the message. I think everyone was in good spirits today.”

As fans clamour for the return of Alexander Romanov, and Brett Kulak and Tomas Tatar remain options, Ducharme hinted that more lineup tweaks could be in order for Monday’s Game 4.

“I’m not worried about putting any of our players in the lineup. They’ll be ready to play,” Ducharme said. “For Gustafsson, we’ll see tomorrow. You saw the power play units today, and that’s what it will be tomorrow, but we’ll see for the rest of our lineup.”

Anderson maintains that the mood is “loose and confident” in the Habs dressing room, even as they face the Herculean task of winning four straight games against a team that hasn’t lost four in a row since February of 2020.

“We’re going to do everything we can to stay in this thing and fly out to Tampa on Tuesday,” Anderson asserted.

“We got nothing to lose at this point, so everyone's gonna be ready for tomorrow night, I can tell you that. We're not finished yet.”

While the Canadiens insist they are loose and confident, the Lightning certainly looked that way during Sunday’s well-attended 30-minute optional.

The practice session was punctuated with happy whoops and yodels, playful chirps and goal celebrations. Plenty of them came from Maroon, who could threepeat Monday like some sort of lumberjack Michael Jordan.

"Playoff time is the best part of the year, and we're loving every second of it," said Yanni Gourde.

Towards the end of practice, the nets were pulled to the blue lines for a miniature 3-on-3 scrimmage tournament.

When Maroon’s line scored the winning goal, the Big Rig’s arms outstretched high in the air, where Stanley Cups get held.

“I know our mindset is different going into these closeout games as it has [been] in the past,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

“It's about winning. It's not about where you win. And that's all we care about.”

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