The Canadiens were picking up the pieces on Tuesday after getting steamrolled by the Lightning the preceding night in the first game of the Stanley Cup final.
There were shrapnel wounds from getting strafed by Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, a bit of unpleasant reflection and lacerations all over Brendan Gallagher’s face.
Montreal’s testy winger got the worst of a confrontation with Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev during a scuffle late in the game in front of the Lightning’s net. Gallagher skated off with blood streaming from his forehead and right temple after being driven face first into the ice.
“He doesn’t look good,” Luke Richardson, Montreal’s acting head coach, said before his players practised in Tampa on a day between encounters with the defending Stanley Cup champions. “His face kind of looks like a road map right now. He is a warrior and we expect him to be back in that role [on Wednesday night].
“In so many of our games, he is the driving force. He is always in the face of the biggest guy on the other team.”
The Lightning was lights out in the series opener. Kucherov scored twice, Point had three assists, Blake Coleman had 11 hits and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was rarely tested in a 5-1 smackdown at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay’s tight defence forced turnovers and rendered the Canadiens attack ineffective in a similar way to what the Canadiens have done to previous opponents in this postseason.
Tasked with covering the Lightning’s top line, rookie Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli got trampled. They were so busy chasing Kucherov & Co. around that they failed to generate much offence. Carey Price made a handful of brilliant saves but in the end could stop just 21 of 26 shots.
“It was probably our worst game in the last five,” Richardson said. He took over behind the bench during the semi-finals when interim head coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19. “As of right now, we are ready to bounce back and make a few corrections in our game plan.
“I definitely think you will see our execution better. We have to limit their chances. They are going to create their own offence. We don’t have to help them in any way, that’s for sure.”
Montreal rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the first round against the Maple Leafs, swept the Winnipeg Jets in the second, and then lost the opening game to Vegas before eliminating the Golden Knights in six games.
The Canadiens aren’t going to panic after one loss, but Tampa Bay looks better than anyone else they have played to this point. The Lightning is in the Stanley Cup final for the third time in seven years. This is Montreal’s first visit since 1993. That is so long ago that about half of the players on its active roster weren’t born yet.
“It’s a big stage,” Richardson said. “I’m sure there were some jitters on our side.”
Game 1 is out of the way. It wasn’t pretty for Les Habitants. In most series, momentum is not carried from one game to the next. Each is its own chess match.
That is the most optimistic view to take after Monday’s throttling.
“We weren’t going to win four in a row,” Suzuki said. He has been a force in the playoffs but was silenced by the Lightning. “The result [on Monday] could have been 1-0 or 5-1. It doesn’t matter. It’s still a loss.
“We weren’t happy with the result. I think they had some lucky bounces and we had some that didn’t go our way. We’ll be ready tomorrow.”
The Canadiens hope to return to the Bell Centre for Game 3 on Friday having split the first two games on the road. The organization is working with government authorities in hope that the limit of 3,500 spectators there will be raised. A plan that would allow fans who have been vaccinated to attend is being discussed.
“Time is of the essence,” France Margaret Bélanger, the club’s executive vice-president, said Tuesday. “The answer should be imminent.”
The question is whether the club will return to Montreal feeling good about itself or in a 2-0 hole against an opponent that left them with tire tracks all over them on Monday.
“We were pretty far from playing our best game,” Phillip Danault, the Canadiens centre, said. “We lost Game 1 against Vegas and then came back with a solid effort. If we can steal one here [on Wednesday] it will be big for our confidence.
“We have done it a couple of times. It seems that when we have our backs to the wall we play better.”