Habs brace for biggest test: Defending champion Lightning

MONTREAL — Artturi Lehkonen is keeping his composure after becoming part of the Montreal Canadiens’ illustrious history by scoring the franchise’s most important goal in nearly three decades.

If the upstart Canadiens’ remarkable playoff run has been fueled, in part, by a desire to earn respect, then their journey is not yet complete. The team with the worst record of the NHL’s 16 playoff qualifiers now has the daunting task of facing the defending champion Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, which opens at Tampa Bay on Monday.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence,” Lekhonen said Saturday, two days after his goal at 1:39 of overtime sealed a 3-2 win over Vegas in Game 6 of the semifinals and vaulted Montreal to its first Cup Final appearance since winning its 24th title in 1993.

“I’ve received a lot of messages after that, but can’t get too hyped up about it yet,” the 25-year-old checking line forward added. “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”

The Lightning are as good as they come in advancing to the championship round for the third time since 2015, and following a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders in Game 7 of their semifinal series on Friday.

Tampa Bay is 13-0 when coming off a playoff loss in winning seven straight series, and became the fourth team in the NHL’s salary-cap era to repeat as a finalist. The Lightning feature a playoff-experienced lineup which includes goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has posted shutouts in four straight series-clinching wins. The run dates to Tampa Bay’s 2-0 win over Dallas in Game 6 of last year’s Final.

Montreal forward Corey Perry wasn’t interested in revisiting what happened last year during his one season with Dallas.

And yet, he’s more familiar than any of his teammates when it comes to assessing the Lightning, considering the NHL was limited to inter-division play only this year.

“You look up and down their lineup … you can talk about them all day long,” Perry said.

“They added grit at the deadline last year, and kind of taken off,” he added. “We’re excited for this opportunity. We’re here for a reason. They’re here for a reason.”

The teams haven’t met since the Lightning completed a four-game season-series sweep of Montreal with a 4-0 win at Tampa Bay on March 5, 2020. Montreal is 2-8-2 in its past 12 meetings and 0-5-1 at Tampa Bay since a 2-1 overtime win on April 1, 2017.

The Lightning have a 2-1 playoff series edge over Montreal, including a six-game second-round win in their previous meeting in 2015.

Both teams are similar in how their respective general managers remade their rosters by adding size and playoff experience to offset past playoff collapses.

Last year, Tampa Bay’s Julien BriseBois’ additions of Pat Maroon, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman played key roles on a team coming off an embarrassing four-game, first-round loss to Columbus in 2019.

“It was all building blocks to get here,” coach Jon Cooper said, referring to the Lightning’s past playoff failures. “But look, we haven’t won the Stanley Cup this year, we’re chasing it just like Montreal.”

This year, Montreal’s Marc Bergevin, made similar moves in adding forwards Perry, Tyler Toffoli and Eric Staal, and defenseman Joel Edmundson — all former Cup winners — to a team that had won four playoff series (including a preliminary round last year) since 2011.

The Canadiens, who swept Winnipeg in the second round, have won 11 of 13 games since falling behind 3-1 in the first round to Toronto. And Montreal keeps winning despite having interim coach Dominique Ducharme spending the past week in self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

Assistant Luke Richardson is filling in for Ducharme, who is expected to return for Game 3 on Friday in Montreal.

“For sure, when we talk about adversity, they faced adversity. They went through some ups and downs and learned from it,” Ducharme said of the Lightning. “There’s a reason why they’re back in the Final this year.”

The Canadiens have the respect of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.

“They’re going to get the best team that they’ve played against so far, and we’re going to get the best team that we’ve played against so far,” Stamkos said. “You don’t get to the finals by luck.”

Canadiens assistant captain Brendan Gallagher had enough faith in Bergevin’s vision to stay in Montreal by signing a six-year, $39 million contract extension in October.

“The one question I had to ask myself was obviously you want to leave the league a winner,” Gallagher said. “There were ups and downs this year, but the belief in this group has never wavered, never changed. We always knew this was possible. We just did what we were capable of doing.”

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)

*if necessary

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    Predators-Avalanche postponed due to water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Friday’s game between the Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche has been postponed because of a water main break that has soaked the downtown arena.

    The NHL said the water main break has “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store.

    The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    A makeup date for the  game will be announced later.

    Also, a decision on whether to postpone the Predators’ home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets will be made later.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue in Nashville for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.

    Carrier, Pietrangelo rally Golden Knights past Canucks 5-4

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Pietrangelo scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period and had two assists as the Vegas Golden Knights rallied past the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 on Monday night.

    William Carrier scored twice and Mark Stone had a goal and an assist for the Golden Knights (15-4-1), who overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third. Reilly Smith also scored, while Jack Eichel and Alec Martinez each had two assists.

    Logan Thompson made 25 saves for Vegas, which had a go-ahead goal wiped out in the third but still kept pushing.

    “I don’t think that’s really how we drew it up,” Pietrangelo said. “A lot of emotions. Obviously we score and then it gets taken back. But I’ll tell you what, it’s not easy to win on the road and you’ve got to give credit to our group – we were resilient no matter what happened.”

    Vancouver (6-10-3) got a goal and an assist from Andrei Kuzmenko. Bo Horvat, Luke Schenn and Elias Pettersson also scored, and Quinn Hughes had two assists.

    Thatcher Demko stopped 33 shots for the Canucks, who gave up a multi-goal lead in a loss for the seventh time this season.

    “Inexcusable,” defenseman Luke Schenn said.

    “That’s nothing to do with systems or what the coaches are telling us. That comes down to battle and compete and, we’re getting outmuscled and outbattled in front of the net and in the blue paint,” he added. “Everyone just needs to be better in front of (Demko) there and that’s where games are won and lost.”

    Vegas appeared to take the lead midway through the third period, but the goal was disallowed because of a bizarre bounce.

    A clearing attempt by the Canucks hit the lens of a camera sticking through one of the media holes in the glass, knocking a piece of it onto the ice. Play continued at that end and Stone put the puck in the net. But after a video review, the goal was overturned and an official said the whistle should have been blown to stop play.

    About four minutes later, Pietrangelo did give the Golden Knights a 5-4 advantage when he collected a puck from Stone and sent a backhand past Demko from the low slot at 14:14.

    Vancouver scored three straight goals early in the third to go up 4-2 before Vegas roared back.

    “We let them score one, kind of changed the momentum quick and then they scored another one. So I don’t know,” Pettersson said. “We just can’t let that happen. It’s been happening way too many times this season.”

    Carrier made it 4-3 with his second of the night at 6:54, sending in a rebound from the top of the crease for his sixth of the season.

    “Once they scored one it was like, `Uh oh, here we go again.’ And we’re back on our heels and they came at us, and then they got three,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    Smith shoveled a puck into the Vancouver net at 8:57 to tie it.

    “We just win some pucks below their goal line and get it to the front of the net and force them to defend an area they haven’t done as good a job as they’d probably like this year there,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We didn’t do a very good job to start a third there, and then it snowballs a little bit. You have a little life and you get a couple more pucks to the net and a second chance.”

    ON A ROLL

    Horvat drew the Canucks even 1:47 into the third with a wrist shot from the hash marks. Vancouver’s captain has 15 goals, second-most in the NHL behind Connor McDavid (16). … Brock Boeser‘s assist on the first goal of the game extended his point streak to seven games (two goals, six assists).

    MARKING MILESTONES

    Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault played his 500th regular-season NHL game. Now in his 10th season, the 31-year-old center suited up for Columbus, Tampa Bay and Florida before Vegas selected him in the 2017 expansion draft. … Vancouver defenseman Ethan Bear made his 200th regular-season appearance.

    UP NEXT

    Golden Knights: Host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday in the opener of a three-game homestand.

    Canucks: Begin a three-game trip Wednesday at Colorado.