Stanley Cup preview: Jeff Petry, veteran core help key Montreal’s surprising run

Detroit News

Detroit — When the Montreal Canadiens were last in Tampa, before COVID shut down the 2019-20 season, there was one complete day off on the schedule.

So defenseman Jeff Petry, with connections to the Tigers’ organization given his father Dan pitched for the team and is now a television analyst, was able to hook up a batting practice session in Lakeland, as the Tigers were beginning spring training.

It was a small foursome of Canadiens who went to take some batting practice. Petry, the former Orchard Lake St. Mary/Michigan State star, forward Brendan Gallagher, defenseman Shea Weber and goaltender Carey Price — the Canadiens’ core leadership group.

“As a group we went down there, we had the day off and it was great to just kind of step away from hockey for a day and to experience that,” Petry said during a Zoom session Sunday with Stanley Cup media.

Petry and the Canadiens, the surprise of this Stanley Cup playoff season, open The Finals on Monday with Game 1 of the best-of-seven series in Tampa Bay.

And one of the prime reasons is that veteran leadership group, which has been so good on and off the ice during this unexpected run toward the Stanley Cup.

One thing Dan Petry noticed, and he told his son and reporters afterward during that 2020 batting practice fun day, was the bond between the Canadiens’ veterans, and the chemistry of the group.

Jeff Petry agreed as he remembered that outing Sunday, and the impact, he believes, Gallagher, Price and Weber have on this roster.

“(They) are obviously huge parts of this team and it’s not only what they do on the ice; you look at those guys and their leadership in the room is special,” Petry said. “You can say it’s about the way they perform on the ice, but it’s also everybody sees how hard they work, and it’s easy to get behind those guys and feed off their energy, their work ethic.

“Those three guys really bring this group together.”

Petry spoke Sunday about Weber, a likely future Hall of Famer, and Price, another longtime star, who will be making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Weber’s influence since on the Canadiens since arriving in 2016 in a trade for P.K. Subban has been immeasurable, and he remains one of the elite defensemen in the NHL.

“From Day One, he (Weber) has stepped in and been a leader for this team,” Petry said. “He’s been around the league for a long time. We want to win for everybody in the room and organization, and guys, especially like him (Weber), Pricey (Price), those guys have been here for a long time and first time in this situation, we want to do it for those guys.”

And that includes Price, whose personal matchup in net against Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy will be one of the best goalie battles in recent memory.

Price has been exceptional in the playoffs with a .934 save percentage, and 2.02 goals-against average.

“That goes a long way,” Petry said of Price’s dominance in net. “Whether you’re up in the game or down in the game, he’s always calm and collected. His movements seem effortless. He doesn’t get rattled in the net. His calming presence sends a calming message to our whole team.

“If it’s a tough stretch in the game, he’s back there making saves and making them look effortless. It goes a long way. Knowing you have a guy like that behind you, it’s something special.

Petry, 33 and in his 12th NHL season,  along with Weber, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson have formed a tough, defensive-minded core of top-four defensemen that have helped Montreal completely shut down Toronto, Winnipeg and Vegas — three of the better forward groups in the league — during the playoffs.

Now, they have one more stiff test in Tampa, which will be looking to win a second consecutive Stanley Cup.

The Lightning, with forwards Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos leading the way, have a lethal power play that is clipping at 37.7% during the playoffs.

But Montreal has the playoffs’ best penalty kill, at 93.5%, including stopping 30 consecutive opposing power play attempts.

Petry feels the Canadiens are ready to face whatever Tampa Bay’s high-scoring forwards throws at them, having faced those other dangerous teams in the preceding rounds.

“Every team we’ve faced has a player that is very similar to that (Point, Kucherov, etc.), so we don’t have to change our game,” Petry said. “We’ve faced players with that ability before, so I don’t think it changes anything on our mental approach.

Stanley Cup finals

(3) Tampa Bay vs. (4) Montreal

► Records: Tampa Bay 36-17-3 (75 points, third in Central Division); Montreal 24-21-11 (59 points, fourth in North Division)

► Regular-season series: Did not play each other.

► Story lines: So many good ones. The goaltending matchup is extraordinary, with Montreal’s Carey Price and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy generally considered the two best goaltenders in the world. … Then, you have Montreal’s playoff-best penalty kill (93.5%) and Tampa Bay’s second-ranked power play (37.7%). Whoever has the edge there in this series, could go a long way toward winning this series. … No Canada-based team has won the Stanley Cup since Montreal in 1993. … Tampa Bay would be the first team to be repeat as champion since Pittsburgh in 2016-17. … Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme is expected to return for Game 3 after ending a 14-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID. Assistant Luke Richardson coached the Canadiens to the series win over Vegas. … Tampa Bay RW Pat Maroon is going after a third consecutive Stanley Cup, having been part of Stanley Cup winners in St. Louis (2019) and Tampa last season.

► Key player: Montreal center Phillip Danault. The Canadiens’ shutdown center already has neutralized some of the best offensive players in the NHL the first three rounds. If Danault stops Tampa Bay’s top line, Montreal could win the series.

► Prediction: Tampa Bay in 6.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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