As with most things COVID-related, things could change. But Montreal Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme expects to return to their bench by Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This falls in line with recent word that Ducharme considered himself symptom-free following a positive COVID-19 test.
Ducharme return for Canadiens likely by Stanley Cup Final Game 3
Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see the 2021 Stanley Cup Final schedule. Game 3 is scheduled for Friday, July 2 (8 p.m. ET; NBC / Peacock).
If that holds true, that would mean Ducharme experienced a COVID-related absence from Game 3 of the Semifinal against the Golden Knights, to Game 3 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final vs. the Lightning. Take a look at the game-by-game recap of that Semifinal series; it was 1-1 when Ducharme needed to begin isolating; the Canadiens won three of four games with Luke Richardson behind the bench.
CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (MTL wins series 4-2)
Game 1: Golden Knights 4, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Game 4: Golden Knights 2, Canadiens 1 (OT)
Game 5: Canadiens 4, Golden Knights 1
Game 6: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Overall, it’s an interesting and odd situation. After all, Ducharme served as an in-season replacement for Claude Julien. As great as Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield have been for the Canadiens, you can criticize Ducharme for not emphasizing them sooner, and sometimes scratching them altogether.
In other words: are we totally certain Richardson isn’t an upgrade over Ducharme? At times, the Canadiens put on a defensive clinic against the powerhouse Golden Knights:
Series Recap Thread: #GoHabsGo defeat #VegasBorn
Overall Vegas' skaters might have outchanced the Habs, but Montréal's quick-strike counter-attacking and timely saves gave them a chance to win and they took it. pic.twitter.com/kFCKWIV95B
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) June 25, 2021
Of course, just because Ducharme wasn’t physically behind the bench, doesn’t mean he couldn’t help the Canadiens reach the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. He praised his team for not overthinking in big-game situations.
"I think right now, our guys are not thinking. They're just executing, just playing. I think that's what we wanted to create was for things to become automatic, just second nature… I'm really enjoying seeing the team play that way together."–Dominique Ducharme.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) June 26, 2021
Ultimately, the Canadiens need to be at their best to thwart the defending champion Lightning in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. Whoever’s behind the bench will have their work cut out for them.
CANADIENS VS. LIGHTNING – series livestream link
Game 1: Mon. June 28: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 2: Wed. June 30: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.