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It’s okay, Montreal, maybe one day you can play like the Lightning, too

John Romano | Three games into the Stanley Cup final and Tampa Bay has outscored sister city Montreal 14-5.
First lesson in winning hockey? Playing like a team. From left, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli celebrate Hedman's power play goal in Tampa Bay's 5-3 victory in Game 3 Friday night.
First lesson in winning hockey? Playing like a team. From left, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli celebrate Hedman's power play goal in Tampa Bay's 5-3 victory in Game 3 Friday night. [ CHRISTINNE MUSCHI | Special to the Times ]
Published Jul. 3
Updated Jul. 3

I’m sorry, but this isn’t right. Who treats a potential in-law so callously?

The Rays have been courting Montreal for years now and, like it or not, we must face the fact that Tampa Bay may eventually be wedded to the good people of Quebec.

And that means we should help them when we can. Teach them about things with which they might be unfamiliar.

Like hockey.

You know, not every market can be as proficient in the game as Tampa Bay. The way I understand it, the Canadiens have not won a Stanley Cup, or had even made it to the finals, since the year the Lightning were born. Tampa Bay, of course, has won two Cups and is on the verge of hogging it for yet another year.

So perhaps the Lightning could take it a little easier on the Canadiens in this Stanley Cup final. Maybe not punk them in front of their tiny little crowd. After beating the Canadiens 6-3 in Montreal in Game 3 on Friday night, the Lightning moved to within one victory of the first Stanley Cup final sweep in 23 years.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens are down to their last chance to win a game in the final since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was a college student in Montreal just about a mile down the road from the Bell Centre.

“We have a gameplan, right? And everybody is buying in and everybody is doing their job,” said wing Nikita Kucherov, who had a goal and an assist in Game 3. “When everybody is doing their job, it makes it easier. We play a full 60 minutes the right way.”

Honestly, it wouldn’t be that difficult for the Lightning to give these guys a few tips. Nothing too fancy, just some pointers for hockey novices.

For instance, it’s totally okay for defensemen to score. No, seriously, this is true. The Lightning were up 2-0 in Game 3 because the Canadiens didn’t bother to cover either Jan Rutta or Victor Hedman, and both defensemen blasted in shots from more than 50 feet away.

Also, you kinda want to score on power plays. I know each team only had one opportunity with a man-advantage in Game 3, but the Lightning scored on their chance and Montreal did not. Make sure you write that tip down, because it’s pretty important.

Finally, it helps to maybe score early. Or at least before the other team does. Or, really, anytime in the first period. Tampa Bay has scored the first goal in all three games and, in fact, has not trailed for even one moment since this series began.

“They all just pull in the same direction,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s amazing to listen on the bench, for instance like four years ago compared to today, of what is being said and how everybody speaks up.

“It’s been marvelous to watch, I mean to watch this team grow. It took us some time but now we’re starting to (see) some dividends. We’ve still got a ways to go here, but regardless they really put the team first and that’s why we’ve having success.”

Lightning center Tyler Johnson (hidden) celebrates his goal with teammates Mathieu Joseph (7) and Pat Maroon (14) in front of the Canadiens' Joel Armia (40) during third-period action.
Lightning center Tyler Johnson (hidden) celebrates his goal with teammates Mathieu Joseph (7) and Pat Maroon (14) in front of the Canadiens' Joel Armia (40) during third-period action. [ CHRISTINNE MUSCHI | Special to the Times ]

Now, you might be surprised to learn that during the NHL’s Paleozoic era, Montreal was actually considered a hockey hotbed. I am not making that up. Turns out, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup more than any other franchise back in the days when goalies wore Friday the 13th masks and the skaters all looked like failed porn stars.

So, technically, Montreal has far more history than Tampa Bay when it comes to this sport. But Montreal also used to have a baseball team, but we haven’t seen the Expos in almost 20 years either.

And, the truth is, this has been Tampa Bay’s easiest postseason series of 2021. Or 2020, for that matter. It’s the first time the Lightning have jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and it’s the first time they haven’t had a one-goal, nail-biter in the first few games.

“At the end of the day, we’re not there yet. We need to win one more game,” Hedman said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position, obviously, but the fourth one is the hardest one to get.”

Here’s a thought:

Perhaps the Lightning could take it easy on the Canadiens in Game 4. Oh, I don’t mean throw the game. I’m not even suggesting they don’t try their hardest.

But maybe Hedman doesn’t need to shoot a rocket launcher from near the blue line. And maybe the fourth line can go back into defensive mode instead of putting two goals in the back of the net. Maybe Nikita Kucherov can work on the rough edges of his Conn Smythe speech.

And then everyone comes back to Tampa Bay for Game 5 next week and show the Canadiens what a 21st century party looks like when you raise the Stanley Cup.

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

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