Canadiens ‘won’t go easy’ after extending Stanley Cup Final

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)

*if necessary

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.