The Tampa Bay Lightning have a chance to take a commanding lead in the Stanley Cup Final on Friday night when they visit the Montreal Canadiens for Game 3 of the series.
The Lightning enter with a 2-0 series lead and can take complete control with a win.
It is not quite yet a must-win game for the Canadiens. But it is close. We get you ready for Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) on Friday night with three keys to watch for.
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1. How can the Canadiens break through against Andrei Vasilevskiy?
This is the first series this postseason where the Canadiens are not clearly winning the goaltending matchup. It is not so much that Carey Price has played poorly, but more due to Vasilevskiy being sensational.
When it comes to their play in the offensive zone the Canadiens have done a lot of things right in terms of generating shots and chances, but have managed just two goals (one in each game) and face a 2-0 series deficit. One potential option would have been to turn to Tomas Tatar who has been out of the lineup since Game 5 of the First Round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. But it does not appear that is going to happen as Tatar again looks like a scratch for Game 3 on Friday as Montreal looks prepared to use the same lineup from the first two games of the series.
If this were a normal stretch in the regular season it would be easy to just say, “the Canadiens are doing things right. Stick with the process. Results will follow.”
But the Canadiens have almost no margin for error at this point and are quickly running out of time. They do not have a few games to wait around for the results to follow the process.
You can try to generate traffic in front. That is always the go-to suggestion when goal scoring goes cold, but that is easier said than done. It also does not guarantee that you will beat the best goalie in the world. Sometimes you just into a better goalie that is playing at an absurd level.
2. Dominique Ducharme returns for Canadiens
The Canadiens have been without their interim head coach since Game 3 of the semifinal series against the Vegas Golden Knights after Ducharme had a positive COVID test. He will be back behind the bench for Game 3 on Friday with the Canadiens trying to play their way back into the series.
They went 3-3 in the six games with Luke Richardson serving as head coach.
While Ducharme still no doubt had a role in pre-game decisions during his two week quarantine, there is still no replacement for actually being with the team, being behind the bench, in the locker room, having control of the game, and making all of the in-game decisions.
3. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point
Tampa Bay’s top-line superstar duo is taking care of business once again in this series in helping to drive the Lightning offense.
Kucherov has two goals and an assist through the first two games, while Point has three helpers. When that duo has been on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Lightning have a 4-0 goals advantage over the Canadiens.
When it comes to all situations, five of Tampa Bay’s eight goals in the series have come with that duo on the ice. They are difference makers.
Something to keep an eye on as the series shifts to Montreal is if the Canadiens try harder to get Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher on the ice against them. That duo has been one of the best shutdown lines in the league for three years now, and has been completely dominant in the playoffs. In the first two games of the series they have been on the ice for just two minutes against Kucherov and Point. The Canadiens have to stop Kucherov and Point. Danault and Gallagher might be their best chance for that.
Related: Alex Killorn remains out, will miss Game 3 of Stanley Cup Final for Lightning
2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 2-0)
Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Fri. July 2: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.