Corey Perry walked into the locker room after his 164th career NHL playoff game and 19th with the Montreal Canadiens and told his teammates to savor the experience.
“This is hockey,” Perry said. “It’s fun. Enjoy it.”
It would have been far more enjoyable for the Canadiens had they won, which they probably deserved by outplaying the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Instead, they showed they could hang with the defending champions but still trail the series 2-0 and go home to Montreal needing to win one of Games 3 and 4 to avoid a sweep and the end of their season.
The Lightning looked like dominant favorites in the series opener. They will certainly take the Game 2 victory thanks to Andrei Vasilevskiy’s goaltending and Blake Coleman’s timely scoring, but they now know they’re in for a fight.
“I think it’s probably a little stock correction for us in how we approach the rest of this series,” coach Jon Cooper said of winning 3-1 despite being outshot 43-23. “I give our guys credit for pulling this one out, but we’re in the final, man. This can be hard. It’s, like, really hard. We’ve been through this before. We punch, they counterpunched and now it’s up for us to come back at them.”
It’s unusual for a team up two games to none to face the pressure of adjusting and fixing things, but that’s the cold reality for the Lightning Their initial dominance feels like a distant memory going into Game 3 Friday night at Bell Centre, and the attrition is starting to pile up.
Fourth-leading scorer Alex Killorn was expected to travel with the team after missing Game 2 with an undisclosed injury, but his status was uncertain. A handful of other players absorbed painful hits that required treatment, and Tampa Bay’s depth could be tested if this series drags on.
Game 2 goal-scorer Anthony Cirelli said he and his teammates “have the mentality of ‘next guy up’ and keep going.” But Mathieu Joseph played just 6:25 as Killorn’s replacement, and some major adjustments are needed for the Lightning as a team after getting the play taken to them.
“There’s a lot of work to do and we can’t be turning the puck over like that, can’t be playing defense like that,” said defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who was banged up on a hit from Montreal‘s Brendan Gallagher. “We obviously just got to be better. Everybody got to be better, so next game we’re expecting a lot different team.”
The Canadiens face the challenge of playing like they did Wednesday for the rest of the series, mistakes aside. And for all they did in controlling the play, they scored one pinball goal on Vasilevskiy and have cracked him just twice on 62 shots so far.
Teammates have seen Carey Price frustrate opponents and make them change their approach, so they’re determined not to stray from their plan in going after Vasilevskiy.
“I don’t think you need the perfect shot right now in this situation,” rookie Cole Caufield said. “We’ve got to stick to what works, and that’s doing the right things that we can, what we can control: Get people in front of him so he can’t see it, getting rebounds, getting guys to the net — stuff like that.”
Tampa Bay did that to Price in the opener and took advantage of a few Montreal mistakes to beat him in Game 2. What Canadiens assistant Luke Richardson called “very odd miscues” are currently the difference.
“I think those are very correctible,” he said. “I think overall, the way we played is how we’re going to have to play with just a little bit more finish, a little more determination on finish.”
The Lightning know how to finish, both in games and in playoff series. Armed with the knowledge they need to be better to avoid their lead slipping away, they also have experience getting to the finish line when it matters.
“Don’t get too high, don’t get too low,” Cirelli said. “Going through that last year, knowing the grind it was, helps us for sure for this run.”
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