TAMPA, Fla. — It took the Montreal Canadiens 28 years to get back to the Stanley Cup final. They'll have to wait a little longer for a win.
The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning dominated the Habs from start to finish Monday, taking Game 1 in a lopsided 5-1 contest that defender Jeff Petry insisted was closer than it looked.
"I don't think it was a blowout, by any means," Petry said after the game.
"We had some chances when the game was tighter — if we bury those chances, it’s a different game."
Erik Cernak opened the scoring six minutes into the first period when his outstretched stick tipped a pass from Ondrej Palat past the glove of a surprised Carey Price.
Yanni Gourde widened the margin to two when, lurking in Price's crease, he caught a piece of a shot from Blake Coleman, redirecting it into the back of the Montreal net.
Ben Chiarot managed to draw the Habs within one when his desperation shot from the top of the faceoff circle pinballed its way through traffic and spoiled Andrei Vasilevskiy's shutout hopes.
But the floodgates opened in the third period, thanks to a pair of goals from Nikita Kucherov and another from superstar Steven Stamkos.
Habs winger Josh Anderson opted to see it as a learning experience.
"I think you've got to move on from this game," Anderson said.
"But also I think you've got to watch the video and see the mistakes that cost us tonight — especially in that third period."
Price stopped 14 of 19 shots, while at the other end of the ice, Vasilevskiy was stellar, allowing just the lone goal on 26 shots.
Montreal went 0-for-2 on the power play, while Stamkos scored the only power play goal for the Bolts on three chances.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited U.S. President Joe Biden to a "friendly wager" on the final, as is customary in cross-border contests.
"You're on, pal," Biden's account tweeted back. Details of the stakes were not immediately available.
The Canadiens went without forward Joel Armia, who travelled to Florida via private jet Monday to await a game-time decision after COVID-19 protocols initially forced the team to leave him behind.
Given the short timelines, the Habs opted instead to go with Jake Evans for his first start since Game 1 of the second-round series with the Winnipeg Jets, when he was levelled by a controversial hit from Jets forward Mark Scheifele.
"I don't really want to talk about the hit that much right now — I'd rather just focus on what's ahead of us," said Evans, who also thanked the team trainers who helped manage his recovery.
"I was just focused on not rushing it — you know, a brain injury's a serious thing to not rush back, and I just wanted to take my time with it."
Few expected the Canadiens to make it this far, so the appearance of a mismatch in the final is hardly surprising.
Montreal came from 3-1 down in their opening-round series to stun the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, then swept the Jets and downed the favoured Vegas Golden Knights in six games.
The Habs are trying to win Canada's first Stanley Cup since they themselves brought it home in 1993. The Lightning present their toughest challenge — a fact that was abundantly obvious Monday.
"The positive is, we didn't play our best game, so we know we can get better," said assistant coach Luke Richardson.
"They're always a talented team that plays well and definitely creates off mistakes that you make. So by us playing better and managing the puck better and maybe limiting those mistakes and creating a little bit more ourselves, I think we have a good way to go up."
Montreal head coach Dominique Ducharme, who has been isolating since Game 2 of the semifinals due to a positive COVID-19 test, is scheduled to return to the Habs bench for Game 3.
Tampa's power play, meanwhile, is one of the best in the business, scoring on 45.5 per cent of its chances at home and 37.7 per cent overall so far in the post-season.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2021.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press