The pivotal Game 5 of the semifinal series between the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights was held on Tuesday as both teams attempted to take control of the series.
Game 5 marked the return of top-line centre Chandler Stephenson for the Knights, but Luke Richardson opted to keep the same players on the ice. Carey Price was the starter for the Habs, but the Knights opted to return to Marc-Andre Fleury despite a good performance by Robin Lehner during Sunday night’s Game 4.
The Habs played a great 40 minutes to start. They were then outplayed for the entire third period, but their defensive structure and Price battled through the Vegas attack on their way to a 4-1 victory which means that they’ll have a chance to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
The opening three minutes saw the home team come out hard and take it to the Habs. The pressure eventually got to the visitors as Paul Byron was guilty of a cross-check at 2:05 for the game’s first man advantage. The Vegas power play struggled mightily and at its conclusion, it was the Habs that had taken the momentum away from the Golden Knights. This was evident as a strong shift from the Eric Staal line had the Knights scrambling in the defensive zone.
On the next shift for the Staal line, they were hemmed into the defensive zone and with a 4-0 shot advantage, the Knights were lurking. On the next shift, a brilliant pass to get out of the defensive zone by Jesperi Kotkaniemi sent Josh Anderson off to the races. Fleury was expecting the short side shot but Anderson went to the long side. Fleury was able to follow Anderson and made the save, but left a juicy rebound that Kotkaniemi jumped on to open the scoring at 8:45.
The Knights had a short spurt to answer the goal, and then one more push by Mark Stone. Other than that, Montreal shut down the neutral zone and frustrated Vegas as they controlled the rest of the period. It wasn’t edge of your seat stuff, but it was effective and the Knights really showed signs of losing patience as they uncharacteristically turned the puck over while trying to force plays which allowed opportunities for the Habs. In the end, the shots were even at the end of the period, though it was 1-0 where it mattered most.
The second period saw the entertainment value of the game take a significant jump as both teams came out skating hard. Vegas had more puck control, but the best chance came on another Kotkaniemi breakout that resulted in a nice pass from Anderson to Byron who got in alone and tried to go five-hole before being stopped by Fleury.
At the 6:32 mark, Nick Suzuki slowly skated the puck into the offensive while his wingers got off the ice. He held onto the puck and lured two Vegas defenders into the corner. Suzuki then turned quickly and found the fresh Staal who ripped one home to extend the lead to 2-0.
This time, Vegas tried to get physical but this absolutely did not faze the Habs. It appeared as though Montreal was going to get a four-minute advantage after a high-stick from Alex Pietrangelo on Kotkaniemi. The play was reviewed and there was no penalty on the play, which is great that the official was actually able to make a call and set his ego aside and review it. They got it right as while Pietrangelo got Kotkaniemi with the stick, it was on a follow through.
Minutes later, Nicolas Roy was called for a high-stick and the Habs finally got their man advantage. After an excellent showing by the first unit, Mark Stone pressed the play up the ice only to see Suzuki poke check the puck towards the Vegas end that sent Corey Perry in alone. Perry wasn’t fast enough and was clearly going to be caught by Pietrangelo, but the wily veteran realized this, so he lured two defenders on him before firing a pass to Cole Caufield who wired home a one-timer to extend the lead to 3-0.
Shea Theodore kicked off the second half of the period by giving another man advantage to the Habs. They pressured again but Fleury was excellent. Fleury then made the save of the night when play returned to even strength as Staal sent a cross-ice pass to Armia who was absolutely robbed by the Vegas netminder. The final five minutes of the period saw Shea Weber take a hooking penalty to negate a potential breakaway for Stephenson, but the great penalty kill stood up once again and the period ended with a 3-0 Montreal lead.
The Habs shut down the middle of the ice for the opening four minutes of the third. At 4:09, Kotkaniemi lost a defensive zone faceoff and Max Pacioretty was quick to find the puck and fire home another goal off an offensive zone faceoff win to cut the lead to 3-1.
The goal really jolted the Golden Knights to life as Price had to make an excellent save in the following minute. The Habs would eventually settle down and return to a complete defensive shell that Vegas had a difficult time getting through.
A few icings against the Habs kicked off the final ten minutes of play, and the Knights took advantage as they really pressured the Canadiens and forced Price to make some great saves to help his team. With seven minutes to play, Pacioretty found Reilly Smith with a cross-ice pass but he was unable to solve Price. Vegas pulled Fleury with roughly three minutes to go and were quickly gifted a slot chance that Price turned aside. Suzuki finally capped off a huge night by burying the empty-net goal after an excellent defensive play by Tyler Toffoli.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Carey Price
When the Knights were the better team in the first, it was the Carey Price show that allowed his team to step up and have the confidence to make the plays to gain the commanding three-goal lead by the midway point in the game. When the Knights were the better team in the third, it was Price again that kept them at bay and ensured the Canadiens returned to Montreal with a glorious chance to win this series.
Stats: 26 saves, 27 shots, .963 save %, 1.00GAA, 60:00 TOI
Second Star – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki is a smart player all over the ice and has the offensive talent to match that intelligence which is why he is the most exciting centre prospect in a long time in Montreal. His play to set up Staal was magnificent. He was made a strong defensive play on the power play that directly led to the Caufield goal that buried Vegas in this game. Oh yeah, he was also the chosen player to be on the ice in the final minutes of the game because of how responsible he is as a 21-year old.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +2, 2 shots, 1 hit, 18:29 TOI
Third Star – Josh Anderson
It was the play of the Kotkaniemi line along with the penalty kill that really turned the momentum in the first period. Anderson was the best on the line as his speed and size combo creates so much when they are used well. In fact, it was this combo that opened up the space and rebound for Kotkaniemi to open the scoring. For everyone that criticized Anderson before this series, he is probably Montreal’s best forward this series.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 14:02 TOI
Honourable Mention – Ben Chiarot
Chiarot is a player that often chooses glass over pass and in this new age NHL, it’s not a popular play. He’s not an advanced stats darling, and he’s a player that will sometimes pass up an offensive chance to make sure he’s not costing the team defensively. But the amount of one-on-one battles and punishing hits he’s delivered this series needs to be underlined. Pacioretty, until he was moved away from Chiarot onto the second line, has been afraid of getting a puck in an offensive corner. The Chiarot effect on full display.
Stats: 2 shots, 7 hits, 24:02 T.O.I.