Then again, they shouldn’t be in the Stanley Cup Final in the first place, right?
The underdogs won when forward Josh Anderson scored 3:57 into overtime, shortly after they killed a four-minute high-sticking penalty to defenseman Shea Weber.
This, after they gave up leads of 2-1 and 1-0, after they allowed 11 of the first 12 shots, after they were outscored 14-5 over the first three games of the best-of-7 series.
“Nothing’s been easy for us all year, and it wasn’t going to start this series,” forward Brendan Gallagher said. “We’re definitely aware of the challenge, but every little bit of adversity we’ve faced this year we’ve handled well.
“You know, we got through tonight, but we can’t really afford to enjoy it for too long. Move on to the next one and do the same thing, but we’ve just kind of accepted the fact it’s never going to be easy here.”
[RELATED: Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]
Game 5 is at Tampa Bay on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“We didn’t want to end it tonight in front of our fans,” Anderson said. “We expected to go to Tampa tomorrow. I think everybody in that locker room did and packed our bags this afternoon. Just had that feeling that we were going to win tonight and give ourselves a chance.”
It would be a great story to say the Canadiens came out determined not to become the first team to be swept in the Cup Final since the Washington Capitals against the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.
It would be a great story to say they refused to lose the Cup on home ice, something they had done once in their storied history, against the Calgary Flames at the Montreal Forum in 1989. Hockey Hall of Famers Yvan Cournoyer, Guy Lafleur and Patrick Roy were here, looking down.
But that wouldn’t be accurate, exactly.
The opening minutes looked as lopsided as the first three games of the series between the defending Stanley Cup champions and the team that finished 18th in the NHL in the regular season. The Lightning took the first eight shots.
They were outshooting the Canadiens 11-1 until center Nick Suzuki made a play. With Lightning defenseman David Savard on his stomach to the left of the Tampa Bay net, Suzuki stickhandled around him, patiently held onto the puck below the goal line and passed it into the slot. Anderson banged it in.
The Canadiens had their first lead of the series, a spark of life. They were 11-2 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when scoring first; the Lightning were 0-4 when giving up the first goal.
After Montreal controlled play for a stretch, forward Barclay Goodrow tied it at 17:20 of the second. After defenseman Alexander Romanov gave Montreal the lead again at 8:48 of the third, forward Pat Maroon tied it 2-2 at 13:48.
Finally, with 1:01 left in the third, Weber received the double minor for high-sticking. The vaunted Tampa Bay power play had four minutes to put the puck in the net and win the Stanley Cup.
The Canadiens killed it. Anderson scored, and the fans — 3,500 inside Bell Centre, thousands more outside — had something to celebrate.
“We have a bunch of confidence in that room right now,” Anderson said. “I think after tonight I think we’re in a good position. Go to Tampa and take care of business and then …
“You know, they don’t want to come back to Montreal and play in front of our fans, so I think just got to go there, take care of business and come back home, and we’ll see where the series is at after that.”
Good position? That’s a stretch.
Teams with a 3-0 series lead in the Cup Final have won it 26 of 27 times, the exception the 1942 Red Wings, who lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In four out of the past five playoff series the Lightning have played, they have failed to close it out on the first chance but have won it in the end. They haven’t lost back-to-back playoff games in the past two seasons.
For them, this just means they have a chance to win the Cup in front of their fans in Game 5, something they didn’t have a chance to do when they won it with no fans in the stands in the bubble in Edmonton last season.
The Canadiens will have to win Game 5 to put any real pressure on the Lightning, who, at that point, would have to win Game 6 to avoid a winner-take-all, anything-can-happen Game 7.
But at least this victory gave Montreal a chance to keep beating the odds.
“It was not perfect,” coach Dominique Ducharme said. “We still feel we can be better, and we’ll do that in Tampa. We won’t go easy, that’s for sure.”