Game two of the Semi-Finals was on Wednesday night as the Habs attempted to claw their way back into the series after a disappointing effort in Game 1. The coaching staff had a colossal task on their hands as Vegas appeared to have an effective plan in place to counter what had made the Habs successful in earlier rounds, gaining momentum from their physicality. They also had the defensive structure of the Habs figured out quite effectively with the back door passes.
The goaltending matchup wasn’t about to change as Carey Price faced Marc-Andre Fleury, but the Habs did welcome back both Jeff Petry and Jon Merrill which meant that Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak were in the press box for the game. All these lineup changes resulted in a much better effort which was aided by Petry’s demon-like presence (I had to make at least one eye joke) as they held on for dear life but skated away with a 3-2 win to tie the series.
It was another strong start for the Habs as they opened the first ten minutes with a 9-2 shooting advantage. Petry’s presence was immediately felt as he walked the line and created some traffic in front of Fleury on a few occasions. He then got a good scoring chance after a strong push toward the net by Josh Anderson. Nick Suzuki was a physical target of the Golden Knights in Game 1, so he kicked off Game 2 by taking a run at a Vegas player and that seemed to sway the momentum in favour of the Habs.
6:12 into the game, the fourth line was able to capitalize at the end of yet another strong possession shift. Corey Perry intercepted a pass deep in the offensive zone that he quickly sent to Joel Edmundson. The shot from the point was blocked but landed directly on Joel Armia’s stick who promptly opened the scoring for the Habs.
At the 9:50 mark, Petry’s absence in previous games was felt as he took a penalty that likely doesn’t happen with a bit better timing. It was a clear tripping call, though the Habs were quite upset that the retaliatory cross-check from Alec Martinez went uncalled. Paul Byron kicked off the penalty kill by controlling the play in all three zones, so it took a minute for Vegas to get set up and test Price, but more strong play by Phillip Danault kept them at bay.
With approximately four minutes to play, Max Pacioretty was unwilling to take a hit from Tyler Toffoli, so he iced the puck. Suzuki won the faceoff which allowed Petry to walk the line before he dished the puck off to Cole Caufield. Caufield stole a play out of the Shea Theodore book as he sold a shot to everyone in the building before sliding a pass to Toffoli in the slot. Toffoli fanned on the shot, but everyone was in reaction mode after being sold on the shot, including Fleury who was caught in motion and the weak shot beat him five-hole at 16:30 to extend the lead to 2-0 as the period ended with a 12-4 shot advantage for Montreal.
The second period started with a clear change in strategy from Vegas. They opted to try to stretch the neutral zone, a play the Leafs tried often during the first round. Three minutes in, it worked twice as Pacioretty came in alone. He beat Price but the post, and then Mark Stone came in and Price made a nice save.
Five minutes in, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was guilty of a similar play as Pacioretty was on Montreal first goal. The results were similar as Alex Pietrangelo was able to send a cross-ice pass to Alec Martinez that should have been a tap-in. The key word in that last sentence was should as Price came across and absolutely robbed Martinez who had already started to celebrate.
Six minutes into the period, Armia checked his player going to the net and was called for holding on a weak call. The Habs were able to kill the penalty as the Knights really couldn’t figure out Montreal’s penalty kill.
The second half of the game saw Vegas really take it to the Habs for the first five minutes but Montreal did a great job at shutting down the middle of the ice and Price was able to stop whatever made it through. This evened the shot clock but allowed the Habs to really get physical with the Knights. Then, with 2:15 left in the period, Anderson won his board battle which sprung Byron on a breakaway. Fleury tried to poke check which left the high blocker side exposed as Byron made it 3-0.
This proved to be a very important goal as only a minute later, a Ben Chiarot pass missed and caused an icing. Suzuki lost the faceoff and Pietrangelo released an innocent wrist shot through a crowd of four bodies to fool Price and cut the lead to 3-1 heading to the third period with a 16-13 Habs shot advantage which demonstrated that Vegas was the better team in the period, but they still trailed by two. Ryan Reaves and William Carrier got stupid in the final seconds of the period and considering the 2-0 Vegas power play advantage, it was inexplicable that Vegas did not get penalized on the stick job against Perry.
The Habs came out in the third with a clear mission which was to defend their lead. This had some negative impacts as Vegas really controlled the pace of play. However, they spent more time chasing the big hit instead of taking advantage of an opponent that was ready to be attacked. This gave Montreal time to get their feet under them and stop giving too much respect to the Knights.
The Habs realized that Vegas running around and took advantage to control the play. The veteran fourth line was specifically efficient in spending time in the offensive zone that really had one goal which was to kill the clock.
As the second half of the period got underway, it really felt like the Habs were in their zone and within their game plan. With six minutes to play, Suzuki pulled a great move on Shea Theodore to create two scoring chances for the Habs that were denied by Fleury. Suzuki then completed his check on Alex Tuch to negate the counterattack. At the end of this great shift by Suzuki, Tuch went out of his way to interfere spill the Habs pivot. This was key as the Habs iced the puck and Suzuki was unable to get off the ice. Remember that the Knights hadn’t had a single call against them all game.
On the ensuing faceoff, Suzuki lost the draw that was quickly sent cross-ice to Pietrangelo who was able to beat Price low on the glove side with 5:14 to play. Ah, game management! Price almost gave it away with an attempted pass up the ice with four minutes to play, but he quickly got set and made a big save on Jonathan Marchessault.
Vegas really spent much of the final four minutes in full control with the Habs diving all over the ice but stopping the cross-ice pass in the process. It was the play that the Knights were looking for on every single play. Fleury vacated his net for the final 90 seconds. With 50 seconds left, the Habs caught a break as Edmundson took a cross-check but got a whistle where the play likely should have continued. Regardless, the Habs held on and that’s what mattered as Pacioretty threw a little tantrum at Toffoli as the game ended.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Carey Price
It feels like this player should just be stamped to this spot for the remainder of the playoffs for the Canadiens, doesn’t it? Same old story for Price, when he gets offensive help, he wins. Tonight was no different and if Peter DeBoer was trying to help his own team mentally with his pregame comment that Fleury was so good that goaltending wasn’t going to be a factor in this series, he may have just lit a fire under Price even more than before. Here’s hoping this theory is correct because there is no doubt Price was a wall tonight, just ask Martinez.
Stats: 29 saves, 31 shots, .935 save %, 2.00 GAA, 60:00 TOI
Second Star – Cole Caufield
He’s what, 20-some games into his professional career? Take that information in before watching the play Caufield completed on the game’s second goal. He froze everyone on the ice with the sell of the shot, including Toffoli who almost whiffed on the pass because he was so sold on the shot. Add to this that I’m not sure he’s really caused a single goal against this postseason. What an impressive kid. He made the nicest play of the night on one of the most important goals of the game, he belongs not only on the team but on the top line.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 12:24 TOI
Third Star – Nick Suzuki
I absolutely loved Suzuki’s response to being a physical target in Game 1. He laid the body early, played big, and controlled the puck every time he had it. He made plays and took hits to complete them and wasn’t afraid to pick his spots to show that he was going to be dishing back if the Golden Knights were going to be playing him this way. I think Pacioretty playing this way in Game 1 was a source of inspiration for Vegas; I think the same of Suzuki on this night.
Stats: 2 shots, 6 hits, 17:33 TOI
Honourable Mention – Jeff Petry
So many players could have received the honourable mention: Gallagher, Anderson (I really don’t agree with the heat he’s taking on social media), the entire fourth line, Weber. In the end, I went with Montreal’s best defender in Petry who logged big minutes, was involved offensively at the start of the game and didn’t miss a beat physically or in puck management despite clearly not being at 100%.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 20:47 T.O.I.