The Montreal Canadiens have been the surprise of the NHL playoffs, reaching the Stanley Cup Final despite finishing with the fewest points among the postseason teams.
But against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, they find themselves facing elimination, down 3-0 heading into Monday’s Game 4 (8 p.m. ET, NBC) in Montreal.
The Canadiens will try to stay alive at the Bell Centre, where the rafters include banners for the club’s record 24 Stanley Cup titles.
Only four NHL teams have overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win and none has done it in the Final since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs rallied past the Detroit Red Wings.
“Those who think we’ll just go away don’t really know us,” said Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme, who overcame a 3-0 deficit in junior hockey. “We’ll fight. That’s all we’re thinking about right now.”
Why the Canadiens are on the brink:
Too many mistakes
The Canadiens outplayed Tampa Bay in Game 2, but the Lightning went ahead 2-1 on a goal with 1.1 seconds left in the second period. They took a 3-1 lead after a Montreal defensive miscommunication.
In Game 3, Eric Staal was penalized for putting the puck over the glass, and Tampa Bay scored to make it 2-0 in the first period. They outplayed Tampa Bay for the rest of the period, getting one goal back, but a bad line change in the second period led to a 2-on-0 break, a Nikita Kucherov goal and a 3-1 lead.
“That’s a talented team,” Ducharme said. “They make you pay for your mistakes. If we look at the scoring chances in Game 3, it was almost equal. But we gave them a few scoring chances as a result of mistakes.”
They’re not scoring first
When the Canadiens rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against the Maple Leafs and then swept the Winnipeg Jets, they scored first in all seven games. They thrive in that situation by playing physical and relying on goalie Carey Price.
But the Lightning have scored first in all three games of the championship round, and Montreal’s offense isn’t as strong as Tampa Bay’s. The Canadiens are 11-2 in the playoffs when they score first and 1-6 when they don’t.
The Lightning are disrupting Price
The big Montreal defense did a good job in the first three rounds of clearing the area in front of Price. If he can see shots, he will stop them.
But the Lightning have found ways to screen Price. They did so on the first two goals in Game 3.
They’re also doing a nice job with side-to-side passes and scored several Game 1 goals on deflections.
Price had a 2.02 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage over the first three rounds. In the Final, his numbers are 4.39 and .835.
The Lightning can overcome adversity, too
The Canadiens pride themselves on all the adversity they have overcome this season, including Ducharme being sidelined six playoff games with a COVID-19 positive test.
Their playoff opponents also have had adversity. Maple Leafs captain John Tavares was injured on a fluke play, Jets forward Mark Scheifele received a four-game suspension, and Vegas Golden Knights first-line center Chandler Stephenson missed the first four games of the semifinals.
Those teams were hurt by those absences, but the Lightning managed to overcome the loss of second-liner Alex Killorn in Game 1. They moved up Tyler Johnson in Game 2 and he got an assist. They moved him back to the fourth line for Game 3 and he scored twice.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Canadiens face Stanley Cup Final elimination by Lightning. Here’s why