Canadiens prepared to flash resilience again in pivotal Game 2 vs. Lightning

Danielle Michaud and Eric Engels examine Montreal's costly puck management mistakes from Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, plus take a look at Jon Cooper's approach to handling the Danault shutdown line and the dominance of Nikita Kucherov.

Late Monday night, moments after the Montreal Canadiens dropped Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning in such convincing fashion they were busted from Rocky-level underdogs down to David-level ones, Josh Anderson said two words that usually only ring true of elimination games.

But in this case, "must win" seemed apropos, with Game 2 on the horizon and the Canadiens desperate to avoid returning to Montreal down 2-0 to the most formidable opponent they’ve faced in these playoffs.

"We’ve got to go out and steal one on the road," said Anderson. "Go back home 1-1."

The recipe will involve everything that’s been talked about ad nauseam since the 5-1 loss the Canadiens suffered at Amalie Arena: managing the puck instead of wrestling with it, handling the matchup disadvantage better, keeping the net-front area clear and doing much more to disrupt Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy at the other end of the ice.

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But this bit from Phillip Danault, who said on Tuesday the Canadiens were "pretty far" from playing their best in Game 1, is perhaps the most vital adjustment on tap.

"We were spectators for too much time (Monday) — especially in the first period," Danault said. "We were a little better in the second. But if we want to be in this series, we need to get much more to our game and stop watching."

This figured to be the biggest disadvantage going into Game 1 against the reigning Cup champs — even for a team with multiple Stanley Cup winners. The Canadiens have several players who have never been here while Tampa is not even a year removed from beating the Dallas Stars in the Final.

The Lightning, virtually unchanged with the exception of a couple of depth additions made over the season, started and finished Game 1 looking like they were reclining in a La-Z-Boy while the Canadiens were tossing and turning to get off the bar of their pull-out bed.

Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki, 20 and 21 years old, respectively, looked uncharacteristically uncomfortable, on with Cup winner Tyler Toffoli against the best line of these playoffs. The moments they appeared like the trio that has combined for a Canadiens-leading 36 points over this run were few and far between, as they fed pucks to Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat and were caught mesmerized by their speed, tenacity and efficiency in producing three goals at even strength.

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But seeing is learning, and the two kids have shown they’re quick learners, which is something Canadiens coach Luke Richardson is justified to believe will be of value ahead of Wednesday’s pivotal game.

"The younger guys on the team have gone through some experiences over last year’s playoff and this year’s playoff," he said on Tuesday. "I think they’re growing every day, so today’s another day to grow and tomorrow’s another day to show that growth in your game. You have to implement things that you learn every day into your game and grow and get better, and it has to happen fast — especially in the finals. I expect everybody to be better, especially younger guys. I think they’re going to enjoy it, they’ll have one more day of experience of being in the Final, so that will help. And they’re great players, so they’re going to give us a good push tomorrow night to get us back even in the series."

Being down is hardly foreign territory to the Canadiens.

The trials of the regular season revealed in part how equipped they were to overcome deficits. The first round of the playoffs proved their ability to do it when it mattered most, when they came back from down 3-1 and prevailed in seven games over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Game 1 of the semifinal against the Vegas Golden Knights — a 4-1 loss for the Canadiens — was practically a template for the first one of this series, and Montreal responded to that with one of their most resilient and character-driven performances of these playoffs.

"We’ve done it a couple of times," said Danault. "I don’t know, when we have our backs against the wall it seems like we’re better. Also, the first game we’re always kind of looking. So, we want to step up and we want to be better as a team, and we know the second game is going to be huge for us."

Suzuki said it would be a critical one for the confidence. He said that, with Games 3 and 4 on the horizon in Montreal, the most important thing would be offering a performance in Game 2 that bolsters it.

But the outcome is undeniably what matters most.

Richardson, who will commandeer the bench for the last time before head coach Dominique Ducharme returns from quarantine, is confident the Canadiens will achieve the right one.

"I think we’re playing pretty good hockey this time of the year, obviously, to get this far," he said. "So it’s not a fluke. They’re a great group put together for this time of the year. They’re having fun together. They’re a real team. I think that team bond is their driving force, they’re pushing for each other and really playing hard. They were unhappy after the game last night, for sure, and you’re going to see a more determined effort. I think you’ve seen that in every series; we’ve gotten better as all three the series have gone on. We expect that to happen again here in the finals."

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