Thursday’s Game 6 was an elimination game with pressure piled up on the Vegas Golden Knights to win and extend the series to a seventh game. But with Montreal celebrating St-Jean-Baptiste day and desperate for a ticket to the Final, there was no lack of pressure on them, either.
And they did book that ticket, in the face of a massive effort by Vegas. Ignoring goaltending, Vegas was arguably the stronger team, but the goaltender is indeed a key team member, and Carey Price outdueled Vegas’ Robin Lehner, who had replaced Marc-Andre Fleury.
With Price in net, the highlights were Cole Caufield’s snipe and Artturi Lehkonen’s overtime game-winner. Those, and captain Shea Weber’s power play goal, were enough to give Habs a 3-2 victory and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
The referees indicated early their intention to call penalties again in this game, sending Nicolas Roy to the box for two minutes for getting his stick into Jon Merrill’s face. The Habs’ first power play unit had the advantage of starting in the offensive zone and had the formation working fairly well. Corey Perry had a quick glance at the goal but was not given enough space by Lehner.
After some sustained Vegas pressure in Montreal’s zone, Nick Suzuki made a break with Caufield. They could not get to a scoring position so Caufield fed the puck behind the net to Weber who had caught up with the play. Weber made a tidy pass to the front of the net but William Karlsson prevented Suzuki from getting his stick on it.
Just before the halfway point of the period, the Golden Knights got their break, as Josh Anderson was caught on a pinching attempt. Mattias Janmark and Roy had only Ben Chiarot separating them from Carey Price and the Montreal net but the big defenceman blocked the pass to Roy, and a sliding Price got his pad up to prevent a Janmark scoring chance.
Alex Pietrangelo was called for roughing up Joel Armia at 12:36 for Montreal’s second power play. Once again, the first unit had success keeping the puck in the zone, but that was all. However, as the seconds ticked down, Jesperi Kotkaniemi missed a check on Alec Martinez after a zone entry. Martinez was distracted enough that he passed the puck directly to Weber, who wasted no time getting a shot off.
In the meantime, Kotkaniemi had picked himself up and made an astute play, jumping across the front of Lehner. The Vegas goaltender was clearly clueless as Weber’s shot hit the back of the net, giving the Canadiens the first lead of the game.
Alas, that only lasted 48 seconds as things fell apart in the defensive zone. Shea Theodore took a shot from the blue line, and Reilly Smith slipped away from Joel Edmundson to tip it into the side of the net and behind Price to tie the game.
By all measures, it was a hard-fought but even first period. The Habs drew first blood but the score was all tied up at the end of the period.
A Second Snip
The start of the second period was relatively cautious with neither team keen to take big risks in order to run up the score. The Habs protected the front of their net but the counter-attacks didn’t have the sharpest of edges, either.
With the clock ticking toward the halfway point of the period, Joel Edmundson intercepted a Vegas pass at the left-side boards and spotted a fast-skating Caufield across the ice. The rookie picked up the pass cleanly, and at the Knights’ blue line, made a nifty move, flipping the puck in the air to prevent Brayden McNabb from playing the puck.
Caufield protected the puck from McNabb as he curved toward the net, and then lifted the puck over Lehner’s left pad and into the top corner to restore the Canadiens’ lead, the big man unable to get his glove on the puck. Lehner had boasted about their playbook on Caufield after Game 4, but the young sniper continues to find new ways to put the puck in the net.
At the 11-minute mark, Eric Staal was called for a gentle hook – gentle but still a penalty. The frustrated Vegas power play units had little impact as the Habs’ penalty killers repeatedly won puck battles and cleared the puck out of the defensive zone. And that was the 30th successive, successful penalty kill, an impressive mark at any time but particularly so in the playoffs.
Vegas was increasingly controlling the play as the period approached its end, but Montreal’s defensive play severely limited the shots to the outside and when the Knights did get close, Price stood tall, making several spectacular saves to maintain the one-goal lead.
Karlsson had a spectacular opportunity with five and a half minutes left to swat the puck out of the air and into the net. Price saw it coming, though, and knocked the puck down with his own stick, before blocking it with his stick arm and getting it out of danger.
Corey Perry had one more chance with three minutes left on the clock but misplayed the puck. Staal, trailing him, couldn’t get to it, but just a few seconds later, Joel Armia streaked in to take a good shot from the faceoff circle. Another save by Lehner, but the chance was there.
Even though the shots were even at nine each, it was not Montreal’s period from the point of view of controlling play. Stellar goaltending, in the form of Price, though, is part of the team, and between Price and Caufield, the Habs were now but one period away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Hanging on for a Third
The start of the third was exactly what the thousands inside and outside the Bell Centre did not want to see: the Habs’ defensive formation broke down, and as Martinez moved up from near the blue line to pick up his own rebound. Ben Chiarot missed him and the Vegas defender ended up alone in front of Price. He made no mistake putting it through the five-hole to tie up the game at two.
There was no paralysis after that, though, and the Phillip Danault line was in with a scoring chance on the very next shift. Brendan Gallagher took the shot with Lehkonen causing havoc in front of Lehner but there was no way to get the puck across the line as the Vegas netminder secured the puck.
The same line had another opportunity at the seven-minute mark, with ferocious forechecking by Gallagher and Lehkonen forcing Theodore to cough up the puck from behind the net. Danault was in the right place at the right time and one-timed the puck from between the circles, unfortunately hitting the crest on Lehner’s sweater.
There were scoring chances on each side as the clock started running down in the second half of the period. The Vegas defenders were pinching in aggressively while the Canadiens were making repeated sharp counter-attacks.
At the 13-minute mark, the Perry line was at their best, causing havoc in the Vegas zone, but could not get an effective scoring chance. As they were about to get off the ice, though, Perry got the puck to Tyler Toffoli, who streaked past the Knights defence to get a good backhand shot on Lehner.
Caufield had another breakaway opportunity three minutes after that, but Theodore was not as easily fooled as McNabb, and the young sniper had no chance for a second goal.
With two minutes left, the Knights once again tried the six-skater formation, but while the crowd spotted the infraction, no penalty was called this time.
A much more even period, then, but this time with the Golden Knights scoring the goal. For the third consecutive time in the series, the game would be decided by an overtime goal.
Overtime Is a Good Time to Start
Vegas pressed early and pressed hard with Montreal’s third line hemmed in the defensive zone for a long opening shift. Anderson managed to get the puck out of the zone and took it to the Vegas zone to allow time for the tired players to get off and the Danault line to jump on.
Vegas took the play back into the Habs’ zone only for them to clear the puck, hitting the tip of Lehner’s pad with the clearing shot. However, the referees still called it an icing, taking the faceoff back to the right of Price.
The Golden Knights won the faceoff but Gallagher jumped on a loose puck, carrying it into the neutral zone. He passed it forward to Danault, who crossed into the Vegas zone with Lehkonen with only Zach Whitecloud defending. Danault backhanded the puck to Lehkonen, who quickly snapped it into the net under Lehner’s blocker for his first playoff overtime goal, the line’s first goal in the series – and the Habs’ pass to the Stanley Cup Final.
As Gallagher scooped up the puck for Lehkonen, the celebrations started – for the team on the ice, for the fans in the stands and outside, and for Marc Bergevin, the red-suited general manager who was potentially the most excited person in the building.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Carey Price – He allowed two goals but put in a superhuman effort once again to keep the Habs in the game, even when the defensive play slipped up from time to time.
Stats: 39 shots, 37 saves, 61:36 TOI, 1.95 GAA, .949 SV%
2nd Star: Artturi Lehkonen – Lehkonen, Danault, and Gallagher came through when it counted. The trio worked their hearts out throughout the game with aggressive forechecking and multiple attacks on net. The work paid off early in overtime with a play that demonstrated the skills of the Danault line and Lehkonen made no mistake in putting the puck in the net.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 point, +1 rating, 4 shots, 5 hits, 16:56 TOI
3rd Star: Cole Caufield – The young winger brings skill, speed, energy, and attitude to the Habs’ lineup. The move on McNabb was superb, and the snipe to beat Lehner tasted all the more sweet after Lehner’s comments after Game 4.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 point, 4 shots, 12:39 TOI
Honourable Mention: The Penalty Kill Units – While the Habs were highly disciplined tonight, taking fewer penalties than the Knights for the first time in the series, they still had two penalties to kill. The penalty killers were ferocious and repeatedly foiled any Vegas attempts at concerted pressure. 30 consecutive killed penalties is a highly impressive mark.