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Stanley Cup contenders do not usually lose this many games

Montreal has the weakest regular-season record of any team to reach the Stanley Cup final in the past 25 years, but the Canadiens have been a different team in the postseason.
Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki celebrates his open-net goal during Game 5 of their semifinal series against the Vegas Golden Knights Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki celebrates his open-net goal during Game 5 of their semifinal series against the Vegas Golden Knights Tuesday in Las Vegas. [ JOHN LOCHER | AP ]
Published Jun. 27
Updated Jun. 27

TAMPA — Just because the Canadiens lost more games than they won this year doesn’t mean they had a crappy season.

But it was crappy by Stanley Cup final standards.

With 24 wins (and 11 overtime/shootout losses) in 56 games in the regular season, the Canadiens had a points percentage of .527, which placed them 18th among the NHL’s 31 teams.

It’s the lowest points percentage by a Stanley Cup finalist since the Canucks in 1994, and should they beat the Lightning, their 24-21-11 record would be the worst by an NHL champion since the Maple Leafs in 1949.

So should Lightning fans be frisky going into Game 1 tonight?

Not if they’ve been paying attention to the past month.

Montreal may have stumbled to the finish line with 15 losses in its final 23 games, but it found the right formula once the postseason began. Carey Price is one of the best goaltenders in the world, and the Canadiens have wisely chosen to play a tight-checking, low-scoring style.

Montreal is 8-1 in games decided by one goal this postseason.

“We believe that we aren’t the underdogs. We’re very confident in ourselves and what we’ve accomplished,” said assistant coach Luke Richardson, who took over the team the past week when interim coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus. “But in the same respect, it’s fine. We’ve kind of tuned out the outside (world) and let people say what they want to say.”

What people were saying in the first two rounds was that Montreal benefited from playing in a weaker division. The Canadiens fell behind the Maple Leafs 3-1 in the opening series but came back to win three consecutive games, including a pair of overtime victories. Then Montreal swept a rather pedestrian Winnipeg team to become the sole survivor of the all-Canada division in the NHL’s temporary reconfiguration.

The league semifinal win against Vegas was something different. The Golden Knights had tied the Avalanche for the Presidents’ Trophy with 82 points and was playing in its third conference final in the past four seasons.

The Canadiens may be the weakest offensive team the Lightning have faced this postseason, but there is no doubt about their defensive abilities. With a goals-against average of 2.18 in the playoffs, the Canadiens are right behind the Lightning (2.06) in terms of shutting down opponents.

“We don’t even have to say it to the players; we hear them talking about it,” Richardson said. “We don’t use it as a motivation to prove people wrong. … You want to show people that you belong, more than that they’re wrong.”

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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