Here is what the Montreal Canadiens are facing after their Game 3 loss in the Stanley Cup Final on Friday night.
They need to win four games in a row.
They need to do so against the defending Stanley Cup champions. A team that has outscored them 14-5 through the first three games of the series and never trailed. A team that is 31-12 over the past two postseasons, with only seven of those losses coming in regulation. And zero of those losses coming consecutively.
If that seems problematic, it is because it is.
The odds are overwhelmingly stacked against them not only in this matchup, but also historically. Only one team has ever overcome a 3-0 series deficit in the Stanley Cup Final, and you have to go all the way back to the completely bonkers (seriously, go read about it right here) 1942 series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings.
So far the Canadiens have not really done anything different in this series in an effort to shift things back in their favor. They have used the same lineup every game, the same line combinations, the same goalie, and the same everything. At some point you have to consider that maybe coach Dominique Ducharme will try something different.
Would it be too little, too late? Maybe. But at some point something has to give.
Where is Tomas Tatar?
Pop quiz: Who is the Montreal Canadiens leading point producer over the past three seasons?
Answer: Tomas Tatar.
A player that has not played since Game 5 of their First Round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not only is he the team’s leading point producer over the past two years, he is the top-two of almost every major offensive category (goals, points, even strength points, even strength goals, power play goals, power play points) and fifth in shots on goal.
He was also outstanding on the top line alongside Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault. And while Gallagher and Danault have excelled alongside Artturi Lehkonen in a shutdown role, that line could use a little more offensive potential.
Over the past three years that trio has outscored teams 94-49 when on the ice together and controlled more than 62 percent of the shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals.
Could it really hurt to give it another look right now with the season on the line?
Changes on defense?
Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak were regulars on the Montreal defense during the regular season (Romanov played 54 out of 56 games!) and both posted very strong possession numbers over the course of the season. Shea Weber and Jeff Petry should be safe with their lineup spots, but I am not sure anybody else on the blue line has played well enough to have their spot set in stone. Especially when facing elimination.
Another note in their favor: Kulak and Romanov were one of the Canadiens’ most used defense pairings during the regular season and also one of their most effective.
In more than 300 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time the Canadiens outscored teams 11-7 and were on the positive side of every possession and scoring chance metric.
Why not go back to it?
No change in net
There is one change you will definitely not see, and that is Jake Allen replacing Carey Price in net. Ducharme was asked about that possibility on Saturday and immediately said that change is not happening. Not that it should.
Price is the single biggest reason the Canadiens are even in this spot right now, and if they are going to make this a series again he will play a big role in that.
It is also worth pointing out that if he does not play better than he has over the first three games of the series none of the potential lineup changes mentioned above will make a difference.
After playing like a Conn Smythe front runner through the first three rounds, Price has posted his worst numbers of the postseason (and some of the worst of any goalie in any series) against Tampa Bay and played at a level that is significantly below Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 3-0)
Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Lightning 6, Canadiens 3
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)