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The Habs took part in a rare afternoon contest and did so with some interesting opportunities being offered. Firstly, they did so looking at a netminder with no NHL playoff experience in Tristan Jarry. Next, they had the unexpected opportunity of eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins and qualifying for the official playoffs. Alex Belzile was the Habs’ rookie for the game, but much of the attention was on the top-six as Claude Julien opted to start the way he ended last game which meant Nick Suzuki was the top pivot for the contest as he centred Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. This meant that Phillip Danault centred Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron while Jesperi Kotkaniemi played between Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia. This chess match took 56 minutes to have a goal, but it was a series winner as the Habs took the game 2-0 to advance to the playoffs!

Of the four games played so far, this game had the most tentative start from both teams. Despite this reality, the Penguins spent the better portion of the opening ten minutes in the Montreal zone even if they didn’t generate much in terms of scoring chances. Patric Hornqvist did hit a post from a bad angle at the eight-minute mark, but that was about it.

The Habs got skating a bit as the second half of the period started and closed the shots gap; they were helped when Evgeni Malkin took a bad high-sticking penalty deep in his offensive zone. The power play was as effective as it was through the first three games, which meant that Pittsburgh got as many shots as Montreal on the sequence. Overall, the first period was a snooze fest, a reality that was at the advantage of the Canadiens.

The opening three minutes of the second period looked much like the first with very little happening. The first good scoring chance of the entire game came about three minutes into the period when Victor Mete pinched successfully which created a give-and-go with Lehkonen that ended up missing the net. This appeared to get the Habs going as they controlled the following few minutes but Jarry showed some comforting saves for his team.

Right before the midway point of the period, Sidney Crosby was able to take advantage of Jeff Petry being on the ice with Mete and create a two-on-one that would have been quite dangerous if a backchecking Petry didn’t force Jake Guentzel to the outside and negating the chance. On the next shift, Shea Weber purposely missed the net with a point shot which appeared to give Suzuki an open net on the other side, but he somehow missed the net.

The second half of the middle period saw the action ramp up significantly. It started with a Joel Armia high-sticking penalty that gave the Pens their first man advantage of the game. The power play was never able to get into the offensive zone as Suzuki got a partial break that was stopped by Jarry for the best chance.

After a shift where the Habs got completely lost in their zone which created three good chances to score that was stopped by the crowd in front of Price who was dealing with Crosby having fallen on him, Dumoulin was called for holding and the Habs got a second power play. The game of terrible man advantages for both teams continued as it did nothing which led to a nothing final minute and the game remained goalless after 40 minutes of play with a 13-11 Pittsburgh shot advantage.

The third period started slow until the third shift where Byron was able to hit the post and the Danault line completely dominated a shift against the Malkin trio. On the next shift, Gallagher got an opening that resulted in a great glove save by Jarry with the best save of the game so far to keep it goalless. The Jarry stop sparked the Pens who came back and controlled the next five minutes without being able to get into Price’s kitchen.

With 14 minutes to play, Dale Weise took a tripping penalty. Pittsburgh’s power play got in the zone this time, but Price continued to slow the game down every chance he had. Crosby was still able to get a good shot off that he rung off the post. Despite a few posts, the game remained without a goal with only ten minutes to play.

As the final ten of regulation got underway, the Danault line was dangerous again. Other than that line being more dangerous than anyone else, the chess match continued.

Then it finally happened. With 4:11 left in the game, Ben Chiarot picked the best time to pinch to give Montreal control.  Byron came through the zone, shot and picked up his own rebound, drawing a delayed hooking penalty in the process. He passed it to Lehkonen who buried it for the first goal of the game.

The Pens emptied their net with 90 seconds to play but they weren’t able to generate much in the way of a sustained attack.  With 32 seconds to play, Weber cleared the puck from behind his net.  He picked the perfect angle as it made its way into the net to seal the victory. Upset complete.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Carey Price

Price stole a game early in the series, got into the Penguins’ heads and never relinquished that position as Pittsburgh was far too offensively tentative over the course of the four games. Anyways, Price ends the series with a sparkling GAA of 1.67 and a save percentage of .947.

Stats: 22 saves, 22 shots, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV%, 60:00 T.O.I.

2nd Star – Phillip Danault

He played quite a bit of ice time for a third liner. With the score even or with a lead, expect the Danault line to continue to get more ice time than the more offensively gifted but riskier Kotkaniemi-Drouin partnership. Danault was an absolute monster this whole series. He was a faceoff guy who didn’t do much offensively but took on some of the league’s elite with poise and determination.

Stats: 0 points, +2, 2 shots, 4 hits, 19:51 T.O.I.

3rd Star – Paul Byron

His never say die attitude created the winning goal. He accepts whatever role the team throws his way. What else can be said about this little warrior?

Stats: 1 assist, +2, 1 shot, 2 hits, 16:35 T.O.I.

Honourable Mention – Artturi Lehkonen

He may never become the goal scorer that he appeared capable of being in his rookie season. That being said, Lehkonen is an important player for a team that wins by committee and often looks to do so with defensive efforts against some of the league’s elite. He too accepted a bigger defensive role when the lines were shuffled and he’s rewarded with the series winner.

Stats: 1 goal, +2, 3 shots, 2 hits, 18:57 T.O.I.