On this strange 6:00 pm Sunday night contest, the Habs had the rare opportunity of taking a 3-0 series lead if they could deliver another strong performance, this time in front of their 2,500-fan Bell Centre. Coach Ducharme understandably opted to keep his winning lineup along with Carey Price as they faced Connor Hellebuyck and the Jets. The Habs put forth a strong first period but Winnipeg obviously pushed back as they were in desperation mode. Still, Price stood tall and the Habs managed to escape with a 5-1 victory.
The first three minutes of the game saw both team really close off zone entries. Blake Wheeler and Cole Caufield were the only ones to get clear shots.
Four minutes in, the Eric Staal line got a cycle going. It proved to be quite effective as 45 seconds later, Corey Perry picked up a rebound and used the bodies in front to beat Hellebuyck and take an early 1-0 lead.
The Jets pushed back immediately as Nick Suzuki’s line spent a shift in the defensive zone though that momentum did not last long. With 12 minutes to play in the period, Phillip Danault was hooked by Josh Morrissey for the game’s first power play. It was a weak call, but also a weak man advantage for the Habs.
The second half of the period saw the Jets push back, but Price was equal to the task. His best save of the sequence was on Andrew Copp after he was left alone as Nikolaj Ehlers sucked in both defencemen with a cross-ice zone entry. Both teams played a risk-free final five except for a great Wheeler chance with only three seconds left that Price stopped.
The second period started with an Artturi Lehkonen shot right off the opening faceoff and the tone was set. Two good rushes by Caufield followed with the second one forcing Hellebuyck to make an excellent glove save.
Winnipeg responded as Ehlers rang a shot off the crossbar. The Jets were stretching the neutral zone to get around Montreal’s forecheck, and it was working until the Habs did the same and the Jets’ defence didn’t know how to respond. With 11:21 to play, Wheeler got open but rang another shot off the crossbar. Instead of getting the game tied with one of those shots that drew iron, it wound up being a key turning point in Montreal’s favour.
With 10:36 to play, a massive forecheck by Danault created an opening and ended up with all three forwards in front of the net until Lehkonen put it home to make it 2-0. Perry got a good chance on his next shift and then the Suzuki line absolutely dominated a shift. Much like Game 2, Hellebuyck was keeping the Jets in the game.
With 7:11 to play, the Habs took a questionable too many men call. But the Habs broke out on 2-on-1 as Joel Armia looked to Paul Byron, toe dragged the defender, and sniped it home to make it 3-0. As Armia scored, Paul Stastny, playing in his first game of the series after missing the first two due to injury, took a roughing penalty that was quite soft to make it 4-on-4. Neither side scored on it and Montreal didn’t do much with the short power play after.
With just over two minutes to go, Ehlers got away with a high stick on Byron and on the same shift, a Mathieu Perreault pass missed its mark but found Lowry trailing. Lowry finally solved Price to make it 3-1 with 2:09 to play. The Jets were all over the Habs for the final two minutes, but Price stood tall and the Habs escaped the period with a 3-1 lead.
The third started with the Habs announcing that Jeff Petry would not return as he had an upper-body injury after getting his hand caught in one of the camera holes on the glass.
As expected, Winnipeg came out and controlled the third. They did so by activating their defence, but this also left them vulnerable to the counter-attack as the Habs still got good scoring chances from Danault and Suzuki despite being outplayed for much of the first eight minutes of the period.
With 11:17 to play, Stastny took a rather unlucky penalty as his stick caught Weber high. Eight seconds into the advantage, Caufield sent it to Suzuki in the crease for a tap-in that made it 4-1.
After this, Pierre-Luc Dubois completely lost his cool and took a really stupid penalty. It was a soft call but still a stupid action by Dubois as he cross-checked Kulak in the back after the whistle. It was a quiet power play for the Habs, but they were happy to kill the time.
The Jets apparently did not learn from Mark Scheifele’s action as Andrew Copp was the next to take a dumb penalty. He cross-checked Byron three times to the head after the whistle because Byron stood next to Hellebuyck. Then Josh Anderson poked the bear as he poked Hellebuyck after a whistle and took a deserved penalty while creating a big scrum, sending Winnipeg to an abbreviated power play.
Jets coach Paul Maurice opted to pull Hellebuyck to make it a 6-on-4 with four minutes to play. After some time in the offensive zone, Joel Armia was able to send the puck into the empty net to seal the victory. Both teams ran out the clock after that knowing there’s less than 24 hours before Game 4 on Monday. The buzzer sounded with the Habs skating away with a 5-1 victory, extending their winning streak to six games in the process. The last time they had one that long in the playoffs was in 1993.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Joel Armia
This fourth line has been such a blessing as they cycle, they control, and they simply take momentum away from the opposition with regularity. It helps that they are scoring like crazy too. Another big night, this time headlined by Armia. Both his goals came shorthanded; the last time that happened in the playoffs was April 13, 2012 when Dustin Brown had two against Vancouver.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +2 rating, 2 shots, 3 hits, 2 blocks, 15:10 TOI
2nd Star – Phillip Danault
Danault plays harder minutes than anyone else on the team so it’s always a happy sight when he contributes offensively. He did so on this night, but I also feel like he was just way more engaged offensively as he forechecked hard and created more chances than the stat line indicates.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 1 shot, 1 takeaway, 2 blocks, 17/31 faceoffs, 17:22 TOI
3rd Star – Carey Price
He got more help from his posts than we’ve been accustomed to. He also made a few fewer highlight-reel saves than throughout the other games of this win streak. Still, he kept the puck out when it mattered, kept his team confident and the opposition looking for the perfect shot. What a treat.
Stats: 1 GA on 27 shots, 1.00 GAA, .963 SV%
Honourable Mention – Corey Perry
Not too sure how many times he can be featured in this section without this becoming repetitive. He gets to the dirty areas and has a knack for finding the time to score or make a play that just creates enormous swings of momentum in favour of the Habs. I cannot understand how Dallas let him go. Thank you Stars!
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 shots, 1 hit, 1 block, 16:13 TOI