Lightning lead Cup Final 3-0, on cusp of repeating as champs

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Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) watches from the bench after being pulled for an extra attacker during the third period of Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Friday, July 2, 2021, in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

MONTREAL (AP) — An extra day of rest between Stanley Cup Final games might ease forward Josh Anderson and the Montreal Canadiens’ lingering disappointment of falling behind 3-0 to the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

It won’t, however, change the daunting challenge they face in being pushed to the brink of elimination with Game 4 at Montreal on Monday.

It’s win or stay home for the rest of the summer.

“We’ve got nothing to lose at this point,” Anderson said Sunday. “Everyone’s going to be ready for tomorrow night. We’re not finished yet.”

Mathematically, no.

But that might be all the Canadiens have going for them in a series in which they’ve yet to hold a lead, been outscored a combined 14-5, and coming off a rough6-3 loss Friday in the first Cup Final game played in Montreal in 28 years.

The Lightning are spurred by the objective of seeking to join the 2016 and ’17 Pittsburgh Penguins as just the second to win consecutive titles since the NHL’s salary-cap era began in 2005. Tampa Bay is also in position to complete the 21st 4-0 sweep in final history — the first since Detroit against Washington in 1998.

The Lightning, who beat Dallas in six games to win the franchise’s second title last year, are a playoff experienced team in making their third final appearance since losing in six games to Chicago in 2015.

And Tampa Bay hasn’t forgotten the sting of how 2019 ended, when the Presidents’ Trophy winners were embarrassed when they were swept by Columbus in the first round. Anderson played for the Blue Jackets that year and knows the Lightning well, saying, “They’ve grown as a team” since then.

“When you’ve gone through some tough times, to be honest, you try to build on them,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ”It feels good to go through that, and when you start tasting success, you don’t want to go backward. You just want more. It’s like an addiction. These guys are feeling it right now, and hopefully we can keep it together and finish this one off.”

The Canadiens have the uphill climb of attempting to become just the fifth team — and second in the Cup Final — to rally from a 3-0 series deficit. And only five other times has a team lost the first three games of a series before rallying to simply force a Game 7.

The degree of difficulty is that much steeper against Tampa Bay, which has cashed in on various Montreal miscues.

“Errors in execution. It’s not much more complicated than that,” interim coach Dominique Ducharme said. “It seems like every time we make a mistake, we pay cash.”

He didn’t specify Canadian or U.S. dollars.

What the Canadiens did so successfully in capitalizing on other opponents’ mistakes in their deepest playoff run in 28 years is now being consistently done to them.

That was the case Friday, when Tampa Bay scored twice in the opening four minutes of each of the first two periods to build a 4-1 lead. The backbreaker came early in the second, when Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen turned over the puck at the Lightning blue line during a Canadiens line change, and the Lightning struck the other way with Nikita Kucherov cappinga 2-on-the-goalie break.

Then there was Game 2, in which Montreal outshot Tampa Bay 43-23 and still lost 3-1.

“They’ve seen part of (our) best in Game 2,” Ducharme said. “We’re just going to push that to another level. So the adjustment is not major. We know what we need to do, and we know it’s about executing.”

A few timely saves from Carey Price would help.

After allowing 13 goals in a six-game semifinal series win over Vegas, Price has allowed 13 already to Tampa Bay. The Lightning aren’t making it easy on Price by getting traffic in front.

Ducharme on Saturday was even asked what previously would have been an improbable question of whether Price would be his starter in Game 4. Ducharme said yes, before defending his goalie.

“You can talk about one guy or other guys. It’s about all of us,” he said. “We need to be better in front of him. Everyone.”

Scoring first might be a good start.

The Canadiens are 11-2 when scoring the opening goal this postseason and have enjoyed a seven-game run of not trailing. The streak began after Montreal fell behind 3-1 in its first-round series to Toronto, and carried through a four-game second-round sweep of Winnipeg.

“It would be something important, but at the same time, you cannot stop playing if you don’t score the first goal,” Ducharme said. “We need to manage the start the right way, come out dynamic, active, playing our game.”

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos knows what’s at stake for both teams.

“We expect that this group is going to be ready to play, and we expect their group is going to be ready to play,” Stamkos said. “This group is very mature in terms of realizing the task at hand.”

The Lightning are 3-2 this postseason and 7-4 the past two playoffs in potential series-clinching games. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has posted a shutout in each of Tampa Bay’s past four series-clinching wins.

Montreal defenseman Jeff Petry had a defiant response when asked about not wanting to see the Lightning parading the Cup around in Montreal — something the Canadiens have witnessed just once, against Calgary in 1989, during their previous 34 final appearances.

“We don’t want to see the Lightning win the Stanley Cup at all,” Petry said. “Our goal is to win tomorrow’s game and deal with flying out and preparing for a game in Tampa when that comes.”

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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