After splitting the first two games of their Qualifying Round series, the Canadiens were looking to retake the lead in a pivotal game three on Wednesday night. After being the road team for the first two games the Habs were the home team in this one, giving Claude Julien the critical last change. After a quick start, the Habs found themselves down by two. However, a very strong second half of the game led Montreal to a massive 4-3 win. The Habs now lead the series 2-1 and will have a chance to move on if they can beat the Pens on Friday afternoon.
There was speculation all day that the Canadiens would be making some major changes to the forward lines. However, when the lineup was announced there was only one change as Jake Evans took the place of Jordan Weal on the right side of the fourth line.
After missing practice and having a questionable designation before the game, Brendan Gallagher appeared to have a lot of discomfort in his leg during the first shift. Other than that, it was a positive start for the Habs. Jeff Petry and Gallagher each had golden opportunities coming off the right wing but neither could find the back of the net.
Five minutes into the game, the Habs rushed into the zone. Weber was stopped on the initial shot and his rebound was stopped too. However, he would not be denied a third time as he buried the puck to open the scoring. Pittsburgh challenged for goaltender interference as Artturi Lehkonen did make contact with Matt Murray but the goal stood, giving the Habs a power play.
The power play looked dangerous, but they could not find the net and were still left searching for their first goal with the man advantage. On the next shift, Montreal got hemmed in their own zone, and eventually, Ben Chiarot took a slashing penalty. During the power play and on a delayed Weber penalty call, Patric Hornqvist converted on a cross-ice pass to tie the game at one.
The Penguins got a fresh two minutes to work with and they made the most of it as a Jason Zucker shot got past Carey Price to give Pittsburgh a quick lead.
The two goals really took the wings out of the sails of the Canadiens, but they made it through the rest of the period without any further damage. With seven seconds left, Conor Sheary took a slashing penalty to put the Habs on the power play to start the second.
The Habs started the second period with the power play, but it was a dud with the team unable to string passes together consistently. Less than six minutes into the period, there was a scramble in front of the Montreal net, and Teddy Blueger potted a rebound to put the Pens up by two goals.
Eight minutes into the period, John Marino was sent to the box, giving the Canadiens another opportunity to get back in it. Jesperi Kotkaniemi had a dangerous chance in the slot but he shot high on the wide-open net. The second unit played most of the man advantage with the first unit getting around forty seconds.
Just after the midway point, the Canadiens finally found the spark they so desperately needed. Ben Chiarot made a nice play at the blue line and sent a shot/pass to the front of the net where Jonathan Drouin was waiting to tip in his first playoff goal as a Canadien. The goal came right after a TV timeout where Julien changed up his lines by moving his centres around and the move paid instant dividends.
With seven minutes to go in the period, Evans was hit hard by Brandon Tanev. After a hard body check his face was launched straight into the glass, he appeared dazed and had to be helped off the ice. He was unable to return.
With 6:15 left in the middle frame, Evgeni Malkin was sent off for a tripping minor. The bad news was that the Habs failed on another opportunity. The good news was that they were able to take advantage on the next shift. After the time expired, Paul Byron wrapped the puck around the net. Murray made the first save but he lost his post. Byron stayed on it and banged a second shot home to bring the score back to even.
There was a totally new team in the red uniforms after tying the game. Montreal was winning battles all over the ice, and they were first on every puck. They came close to taking the lead by the end of the second, setting up a very exciting third period.
Three minutes into the third, the Habs got a huge power play opportunity. With the man advantage, Joel Armia fired a one-timer that hit the crossbar and stayed in the crease but did not bounce in. Later on, Gallagher made a great play to pick the puck up off the boards and set up Drouin in the slot but his shot was tipped up and out of play.
Just after the penalty expired, Petry was sitting with an awkward angle on the left side. He turned around and fired an unbelievable shot over Murray’s arm, off his mask and in the top corner to give Montreal their first lead since the early minutes of the contest.
The Canadiens continued to try and push forward, but the Penguins were also pushing hard for the equalizer. Halfway through the period, Pittsburgh cycled the puck and sent Kris Letang down low straight to the net. Price stacked up the pads to make a big save and preserve the lead.
With five minutes left the Habs had a great chance for the all-important insurance goal. Gallagher forced a turnover at the defensive blue line and carried it down. He took a shot off the pad of Murray and the rebound shot out front. Nick Suzuki, who had been moved up to that line during the mid-game shuffle, was there, but he could not get a stick on it to put it home.
With just over three minutes left, Byron was called for a penalty, leaving the Canadiens with a monumental penalty kill ahead of them. After forty seconds, the Penguins called their timeout to try and set up a play. Not long after that, Price made a solid save after Pittsburgh set up a Crosby point shot. The Penguins pulled Murray to create a 6-on-4 advantage but Montreal killed the penalty, leading to a nerve-wracking final minute of play.
The pairing of Chiarot and Weber finished off their incredible game with a final stand against Pittsburgh’s top players, and Armia held the puck to kill off the final seconds as Montreal completed a remarkable win to regain the series lead. This was a great game played by the Habs from top to bottom, especially by the top four defencemen, with an honourable mention to some key saves from Price.
HabsWorld’s Habs Three Stars
First Star – Shea Weber
Stats: 1G, 2A, +2, 2 PIM, 5 SOG, 2 hits, 23:55 TOI
Second Star – Ben Chiarot
Stats: 2A, +4, 2 PIM, 1 SOG, 4 hits, 23:00 TOI
Third Star – Jeff Petry
Stats: 1G, +1, 3 SOG, 22:51 TOI
Honourable Mention – Brett Kulak
Stats: +1, 1 SOG, 18:17 TOI
To avoid sounding repetitive, I have decided to do the write-up for the stars together. The top four defencemen were the reason that the Canadiens won this game. They gave two of the top lines in hockey almost nothing at even strength. Crosby, Malkin, and company looked incredibly frustrated in the third period as a result of the tight play of the Montreal defence. With Victor Mete and Xavier Ouellet each playing less than thirteen minutes, each of these four players were relied on big time. On top of their great shutdown play, they also led Montreal offensively with a combined six points. The play of these four defenders was very impressive in this big win.