TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — It was no coincidence 5-foot-9 Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher kept going after 6-foot-6 Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman after the first period in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, shoving him and moving linesmen out of the way to continue the altercation.
The Canadiens still look overmatched trailing the Lightning 3-1, but they finally showed some fire in staving off elimination and forcing a Game 5.
“It’s part of our game,” coach Dominique Ducharme said Tuesday. “Maybe we took that to another level … but if you watch us play all year, and even more in the playoff, it’s been part of our game.”
The Lightning get their next chance Wednesday night to close out the feisty Canadiens and hoist the Stanley Cup for the second time in 10 months. The NHL and the teams are watching the path of a tropical storm that has hurricane potential bearing down on Florida’s west coast.
“We will continue to monitor and make a call when we have to,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email. “We do have an amount of flexibility.”
After losing in overtime to blow the first chance to win, Tampa Bay is determined to finish the job in the next opportunity.
“It’s hard enough just to beat a team, let alone to take them out in four, and we’re in the Stanley Cup Final,” coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s two good hockey teams playing each other, and the series was meant to go more than four games.”
The Canadiens made sure of that thanks to Josh Anderson’s OT winner Monday night. Even if they weren’t the better team, they were certainly the aggressors.
That meant hammering away on Lightning stars Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point and roughing it up once play stopped. That’s on brand for Montreal and a key to winning this deep in the playoffs.
“We’ve talked about wearing teams down,” veteran winger Corey Perry said. “Every night you have to continue to do the small, little things: Keep putting the puck in deep, banging the body. It takes a toll on guys.”
It’s a toll the Lightning cannot afford to pay even with a clear advantage in the series. Several players are banged up, and it’s in their best interest to try to wrap this series before the attrition piles up.
Tampa Bay players also want to stay away from the post-whistle shenanigans that only serve to motivate the underdog Canadiens.
“I think we’ve got to stay out of that stuff,” center Anthony Cirelli said. “It’s two physical teams going at it. This is the Stanley Cup Final. So, I think both teams are going to battle and we should be ready and we have to take it a step further.”
That means getting back to the style that got the Lightning to the final and put them up 3-0. After outplaying the Canadiens and losing, they don’t plan to abandon their game plan entirely.
“We just stick with our process, the way we always go about our business,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “Any game, whether you win or lose, you like some parts of it, you don’t like some parts of it, you look at the things you get better (at) and you go from there.”
The Canadiens would like to avoid another eight-minute shot drought at the beginning of a game and can’t count on Carey Price to bail them out of another bad start. An early Lightning goal with the Cup in a building full of 17,000 Lightning fans would be a bad recipe for Montreal.
Perry understands this task better than anyone. He played for the Dallas Stars last year when they avoided elimination in double OT against Tampa Bay before losing the series in Game 6.
The 36-year-old plans to tell teammates to be confident and “play to win and not to lose” because a loss gives the Lightning the championship they’ve been working for.
“Have fun, be prepared but to work,” Perry said. “You look at the playoffs as a whole and there’s ups and downs and peaks and valleys, momentum shifts here, momentum shifts there. You just have to be ready to play that next game. You know they’re going to be playing at their best.”