The Canadiens’ bags were packed inside their Bell Centre dressing room as their season hung in the balance on the ice. They weren’t preparing to clean out their stalls just yet, however. Their gear was was ready to go on a Tuesday flight to Tampa Bay to extend the Stanley Cup Final for another game.
Montreal’s 3-2 overtime win over the Lightning Monday night was one small step up the giant mountain standing in front of them. Only four NHL teams have ever comeback from a 3-0 best-of-seven series deficit out of 199 Stanley Cup playoff series. Only one team out of 27 in league history has ever done so in the Cup Final — the 1942 Maple Leafs.
It’s a daunting task, but the Canadiens entered the Cup Final with less pressure on them than the defending champion Lightning. No one expected Montreal to get this far, and battling through adversity is something they’ve become acclimated to this postseason. They came back from a 3-1 series deficit in the First Round against highly-favored Toronto to advance in seven games. In the Stanley Cup Semifinals, they dropped Game 1 and then lost a 2-1 series lead after an overtime defeat in Game 4. They would go on to knock out the Golden Knights, the team that finished tied for the most points during the NHL’s regular season, in six games.
[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
Time and time against the Canadiens have proven they’re up for any challenge.
“Nothing’s been easy for us all year. It wasn’t going to start this series,” said Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher. “We’re definitely aware of the challenge, but every little bit of adversity we’ve faced this year we’ve handled well. We got through tonight. We can’t really afford to enjoy it for too long. Move on to the next one and do the same thing.
“We’ve just kind of accepted the fact that it’s never going to be easy here.”
Some of that difficulty is of their own making. Take Game 4, for example. It took Montreal over eight minutes just to get their first shot attempt. They blew two leads in the game. Then late in the third period Shea Weber was whistled for a high-sticking double-minor and the Canadiens were forced to kill off a man advantage from the end of regulation through the first three minutes of overtime. The penalty kill unit came through, as it did all night extinguishing five Tampa Bay power plays.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]
Once that was taken care of, Josh Anderson scored his second overtime goal of the playoffs to keep Montreal’s season alive, two days after telling the media, “We’re not finished yet.”
This Canadiens team is one that has been defined by resiliency.
“For me it’s not surprising,” said Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme. “We’ve been through a lot, and we talk about it. It’s another challenge we have. Tonight, we played hard, it was not perfect, but we still feel that we can be better. We’ll do that in Tampa. We won’t go easy, that’s for sure.”
The series now extends to a Game 5 Wednesday (8 p.m ET; NBC / Peacock) in front of a full house at AMALIE Arena. A loose Montreal team will take their bags and hop on a plane for Tampa Bay ready to face another challenge without fear.
“We have a bunch of confidence in that room right now,” Anderson said. “After tonight I think we’re in a good position to go to Tampa, take care of business. They don’t want to come back to Montreal and play in front of our fans.”
2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 3-1)
Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Lightning 6, Canadiens 3
Game 4: Canadiens 3, Lightning 2 (OT)
Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*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)
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.