The Montreal Canadiens are one win away from the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1993 and will have the chance to move on when they face the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday. For the third straight round, they will be facing a team that have their backs against the wall, and it will be their second time doing so at home.
We always hear the clichés about how teams who are up in the series will play like it’s a Game 7, but it’s hard to play like your back is against the wall unless it actually is. I’m sure that the Canadiens want to do whatever they can to avoid going back to Las Vegas for Game 7, but if they lose they still have that chance.
So what the Canadiens can do is channel a different kind of desperation — the desperation of being so close to the Stanley Cup Final.
As I wrote before the series started, some veterans on the team have never got to this point. Key parts of the leadership group: Carey Price, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, and Jeff Petry are as close to the Stanley Cup as they have ever been, Having taken so long to get to this point, you have to think they know that they may never make it back to this point.
They have a major opportunity at the Bell Centre on Thursday. There are many cautionary tales of teams who had a chance to close a series out at home, only to falter. The Canadiens did it to the Maple Leafs just two rounds ago. The other side to that is that the Canadiens have shown they have the ability to show up in elimination games this year.
Assistant coach Luke Richardson had a 21-year NHL career and had a 3-1 series lead with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final. They had three chances to close out the New Jersey Devils. They lost Game 5 at home, then lost Game 6 on the road, and when it came to Game 7, they lost that as well. It was the closest Richardson got to the Final.
“The team reacts and respects when the experienced guys that have been through these situations stand up and say something,” Richardson said on Wednesday. “Sure, [Alex Burrows] and I and Sean [Burke] have gone through lots on the ice as players but that’s past. Our time is done. We’re here to help and encourage and try and guide this group going forward with Dom. The veteran guys hear that message and carry it right from the dressing room right to the bench and on the ice. It’s invaluable to us as a coaching staff and an organization.”
If you don’t think the Canadiens players know what’s at stake, check out this video the team posted. The normally stoic Carey Price is pumped up,
While Vegas is desperate to survive, the Canadiens are desperate to advance.