During a season that has been anything but normal for Dominique Ducharme, the Montreal Canadiens interim coach finds it somehow apt his team is flying into a potential hurricane for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s no surprise anymore,” Ducharme said Tuesday before the Canadiens boarded a flight for Tampa, Florida, which just happens to be in the projected path for Elsa, the tropical storm and former hurricane churning in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s been crazy,” he added. “But we’re a crazy bunch of guys in here, and we’re going to take that challenge.”
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Canada’s Olympic men’s ski team, which included the likes of “Jungle” Jim Hunter, Steve Podborski and Ken Read, in the 1970s and early ’80s was once billed as the “Crazy Canucks” because of the risks they’d take in order to win on the slopes.
Now come the crazy Canadiens, who face a steep battle to keep the Tampa Bay Lightning from winning the Stanley Cup. Montreal is attempting to achieve the NHL improbable in becoming just the fifth team — and second in the final — to overcome a 3-0 series playoff deficit.
“It’s probably part of our destiny,” Ducharme said, looking ahead to Game 5 on Wednesday night.
The Canadiens are still playing after Ducharme’s lineup changes paid off with Josh Anderson — playing alongside new linemates Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield — scoring twice, including the overtime goal in a 3-2 win to avoid being swept.
As for destiny, what adversities haven’t the Canadiens overcome with Montreal enjoying the organization’s deepest playoff run since winning its 24th Cup title in 1993?
They closed the season with injuries to key players, including goalie Carey Price and alternate captain Brendan Gallagher, who missed the final six weeks with a broken left thumb. Defenseman Jeff Petry missed two playoff games after catching his fingers in a photographer’s hole in the glass.
Then there was COVID-19. Aside from having a team-wide outbreak in April, Montreal was down to its third coach in assistant Luke Richardson after Ducharme tested positive and was forced to miss two weeks of the playoffs before returning for Game 3 of the final. Ducharme, of course, took over after Claude Julien was abruptly fired in February.
Don’t forget the on-ice challenges the Canadiens have stared down, such as rallying from a 3-1 first-round series deficit against Toronto.
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The Quebec government hasn’t given the home team a break, with health officials limiting the home crowd to 3,500 at the Bell Centre, which has a capacity of 21,300.
“This whole season has been kind of chaotic, kind of hectic,” veteran forward Corey Perry said. “We’ve kind of gone through everything,”
Rather than worry, Perry said the focus should remain on enjoying the moment.
“Dom is right: We’re a crazy bunch of people. This is fun to do here in Montreal,” he added. “Be prepared to work, but at the end of the day, it’s just hockey and have fun.”
Crazy as it might sound, as Anderson put it on Sunday: “We’ve got nothing to lose.”