Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Montreal Canadiens fans look on outside the Bell Centre in Montreal, Friday, July 2, 2021, during Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Dominique Ducharme has led a hockey team back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series before.

The Montreal Canadiens’ interim head coach was behind the Halifax Mooseheads’ bench in 2012, when the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team won four straight games against the Quebec Remparts en route to a 4-3 quarter final series win. Now, he hopes to lead the Habs down the same path as they trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by three games in the Stanley Cup final, and prepare for what could be the final match of the NHL season on Monday night.

“We can’t look too far,” said Ducharme, “you look at the mountain and it looks pretty high, but there are steps to pass. The first step is to win our next home game.”

The mountain he currently faces is far steeper than in the junior leagues. No NHL team has won the Stanley Cup after being down 3-0 in the final round in almost 80 years, and his Canadiens are attempting to pull it off against the defending cup champions. Still, Ducharme maintains that his team is not fazed by the difficult task ahead.

“Those who say we’re just going to let this go, it’s not knowing us well. We’re going to fight.”

For Montreal Canadiens fans, it’s all or nothing

The Canadiens have had magic on their side – and now they need it more than ever

Coming off losses of 5-1 and 3-1 in Games 1 and 2 in Tampa Bay, the Canadiens failed to leverage home ice advantage at the Bell Centre on Friday. They lost 6-3, despite outshooting the Lightning 35-30. The Habs have the weekend to prepare for Game 4, when the Stanley Cup will be in the Bell Centre, polished and ready to be awarded in the event of a Lightning win.

A victory on Monday could make Tampa Bay just the second team since 2000 to win two cups in a row, after the Pittsburgh Penguins did it in 2016 and 2017. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said his team using both the memory of being eliminated in the first round in 2019, and the one of winning the title last year, to motivate them for Monday’s game.

“When you start tasting success, you don’t want to go backwards. It’s like an addiction and the guys are feeling it right now.”

In a press conference after Game 3, Cooper lauded the two-way play and consistency throughout the playoffs of star right winger Nikita Kucherov, who scored early in the second period on Friday, and who now leads all playoff scorers with 32 points in 21 games.

“I hope people realize his game is more than just playing on the power play,” said Cooper of the 28-year-old forward, who missed the entire regular season while recovering from hip surgery. “He can dictate plays, he’s out there when we’re protecting a lead... his growth as a player away from the puck, to me that’s what puts you in the star category.”

Cooper said he and his players, who until this week had spent the entirety of the playoffs in the U.S., are readjusting to life in Canada’s NHL bubble. He said not being allowed to go anywhere but their hotel and the arena, all while seeing people walking around the streets without masks, makes for a strange experience. Yet, he said sightseeing was never on his team’s agenda.

“We’ve spent 65 days in this exact same environment before and thrived,” he said, referring to last season’s league-wide COVID-19 bubble. “We know what to expect... this is a business trip for us.”

Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said the team plans to lay low and rest on Saturday, before getting back to regular practice on Sunday.

“Tomorrow will be a big work day at the rink and practice day to really fine tune” he said. “When we get to game day, it will be all business again.”

Monday’s game will be the first time the Stanley Cup makes an appearance at a Montreal home game since 1993, and the first time ever in the Bell Centre. Mathieu Joseph, a Lightning winger born and raised in Laval, QC, near Montreal, said the possibility of winning the cup in front of family and friends excites him, but that the thrill is not distracting him from the task at hand.

“The fourth game is always the hardest one to win,” said Joseph, who collected an assist in Friday’s game on the Lightning’s fourth goal. “There is still a lot of work to do.”

The 24-year-old was one of three Quebec-born players in the lineup on Friday, along with centre Yanni Gourde, and defenseman David Savard. Last season, Joseph was a healthy scratch for much of the playoff run. This year he hopes to be closer to the glory.

“It’s definitely something you want to a be part of,” he said. “I know the guys want to taste it again.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe