TAMPA, Fla. (AP)Canadiens assistant Luke Richardson is preparing to hand back the coaching duties to Dominique Ducharme for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Final.
Ducharme, the team’s interim head coach, spent the past two weeks in mandatory quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. The 14-day period ended Thursday, leaving him eligible to return in time for Game 3 of the series against Tampa Bay on Friday night in Montreal.
”As far as as I know, he’ll be back in the building first thing tomorrow with the team, ready to go, just like he was before he left,” Richardson said Thursday, before the Canadiens traveled to home trailing the series 2-0.
Perhaps, Richardson said, Ducharme’s return could provide the team a boost, much like that of a player being cleared after an injury.
”We’ve kept in contact and had some Zoom meetings, but it’s not the same,” he said. ”So a fresh view and voice back there to add what he’s seen us do in the first two games is going to be a plus for us.”
Richardson has a 3-3 record since taking over, and guided the Canadiens to win three of four to eliminate the Vegas Golden Knights in six games of their semifinal series.
Montreal followed a final series-opening 5-1 loss on Monday with a 3-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
”We’re getting better,” said Richardson after Montreal outshot Tampa Bay 43-23 in Game 2. ”And we just plan on getting better the next game and winning that Game 3.”
The Canadiens controlled play for most of the first two periods Wednesday but trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes when Tampa Bay’s Blake Coleman beat Carey Price with a diving goal in the final second.
”I thought the guys had a lot of character,” Richardson said. ”They came out and played hard in the third. And unfortunately it didn’t go our way. But I was confident our guys would bounce back and play our style of game, and play it hard. And we did.”
Montreal prevented the Lightning’s dominating power play from scoring on three chances, with the Canadiens converting one of their three opportunities. Still, it wasn’t enough.
”So it’s a little frustrating knowing we played a good game,” Richardson said. ”But we did that last series. We played probably one of our best games in the last series against Vegas and we didn’t come out with the win (in Game 4). And the next game we persevered. And that’s what we plan to do again here.”
Ducharme was promoted from his assistant job after the Canadiens fired Claude Julien in February.
Under Ducharme, the Canadiens overcame various injuries and a late-season coronavirus outbreak to clinch a playoff berth with the worst record of the 16 qualifiers. Montreal has since gone on a remarkable run in returning to the championship round for the first time since winning the Cup in 1993.
”I know it’s got to be killing Dom for the last two weeks,” forward Eric Staal said.
”He’s no different than us as players, and I’m sure the rest of the staff. You dream and you work your whole life to be in a Stanley Cup Final,” Staal added. ”To be with us in person will be huge for us. Now we’re looking forward to it.”
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Montreal contributed.
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