The Habs were back in action Monday night as they looked to close out their series against the Winnipeg Jets. Montreal did not have much success when playing the second game in two nights this season, but they looked to reserve that trend to eliminate their second-round opponent.
With Jeff Petry not finishing Game 3, the Habs held him out of Game 4 which meant an important increase in responsibility for Brett Kulak as he joined the top four. Erik Gustafsson was joined on the third pair by Alexander Romanov who made his NHL playoff debut. No changes were made to the forward lines and the goaltending matchup remained the same.
The result was much of the same as the Habs appeared in complete control for long stretches of this game. Despite this, the Jets got some bounces and were able to force overtime. Ultimately, it was Suzuki-Caufield-Toffoli magic that came through once again as they scored a minute into overtime again as the Habs eliminated the Jets in a game they truly deserved to win. On to the next round!
Considering the stakes, one would have expected the Jets to come out stronger. They controlled the first minutes but they still weren’t convincing. Josh Anderson opened his game by thumping Pierre-Luc Dubois and Brendan Gallagher disrupted Connor Hellebuyck after a save that made Blake Wheeler react. These events turned the tide and Corey Perry created some good scoring chances for the first good saves of the night that translated to a few shifts where the Habs were in complete control.
Seven minutes in, Jesperi Kotkaniemi took a high stick to the face in the offensive zone that resulted in the game’s first power play. The man advantage took a minute to execute. It was a terrible attempt to clear the zone by Nate Thompson that led to a fake shot by Gustafsson who then skated to open the lane and fired home a wrist shot that beat the very screened Hellebuyck to open the scoring.
One minute later, Nikolaj Ehlers skated in with speed and Brett Kulak took an interference penalty to slow him down. The Jets got some zone time but were never truly threatening Price’s net. However, they were able to grab some momentum and get some offensive zone time in the minutes that followed.
The last five minutes of the period started with another easy call for the official. Dubois came in to hit Tyler Toffoli but threw a weird punch-elbow toward Toffoli to offer the Habs a second man advantage of the period. The power play was dangerous as Perry found Nick Suzuki in the slot who fanned on the chance before Perry almost tipped home a point shot. This was the best chance, but it was a shooting gallery as Hellebuyck was solid in keeping the Jets within a goal. He couldn’t keep it up forever though as a point shot by Brett Kulak was tipped home by Artturi Lehkonen to make it 2-0 with 51 seconds to play in the period.
Phillip Danault’s line had a great first shift to start the second period, but on the second shift, Price was surprised by a Logan Stanley point shot as Stanley roofed a nice shot to cut the lead only 1:40 into the period. Despite the goal, the Jets were not able to really take control of the pace of the game as the Kotkaniemi line fired back and Hellebuyck was forced to make a great save to stop an Anderson scoring chance.
5:29 into the period, the Habs got caught with three guys covering the two Jets in zone entry. This left the trailing Stanley open. He wound up and his shot appeared to be somewhat of a knuckler that fooled Price to tie the game. It was one Price would love to have back, but an important one in giving the Jets some confidence.
On the next shift, Perry once again created, this time setting up Gustafsson who rang one off the post. As the midway point of the game passed, both teams were playing very safe as scoring chances weren’t numerous on either side.
With approximately five minutes to play, an inoffensive zone entry for the Jets went off Ben Chiarot’s stick and hit the crossbar before finding itself behind the net, a lucky outcome to an unlucky play. With a minute to play, the Jets took yet another penalty as an incredibly weak call went the way of Ehlers as he was called for cross-checking Gallagher.
The Habs started the third period with the second minute of the gift power play but were unable to capitalize. Both teams then played extremely conservative hockey with the only chance coming off some strong forecheck by Gallagher. This created momentum as Paul Byron forechecked hard before Armia had an elite shift where he caused turnovers and created some dangerous-looking plays in the offensive zone.
As the final ten minutes of regulation got underway, the shots were 37-12 in favour of the Habs which was a fair indicator of Hellebuyck’s role in this game. It was also indicative of Winnipeg’s overall unconvincing effort in an elimination game.
With eight minutes to play, the Jets took advantage of Kulak not reacting well to a breakdown in coverage. Price made the first two saves and had to take out the glove to stop Paul Stastny with his best save of the game. The Habs responded with a few scoring chances of their own as they threatened right down to the final seconds, but this game required overtime.
The overtime did not last long! The Kotkaniemi line set the tone with a physical shift that hemmed the Jets in their zone. This was followed by a strong shift by the Danault line where Lehkonen almost ended it. 1:39 into the overtime, Suzuki won a board battle in the offensive zone corner against two Jets. This win by Suzuki got Caufield the puck and Caufield went cross-ice to Tyler Toffoli who one-timed it home to end the series.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Artturi Lehkonen
The very definition of Montreal’s depth this season. Lehkonen got hurt to come out of the lineup and ended up having to wait his turn to get back. Upon his return, he was shifted to the team’s top defensive units and thanked his coach by scoring in consecutive games, not to mention his relentless forecheck that created multiple chances for Gallagher in this game.
Stats: 1 goal, 3 shots, 1 hit, 16:01 TOI
Second Star – Tyler Toffoli
He’s been the goal-scorer all year and even if his playoffs have been a bit more modest, he’s still scoring these huge goals to get the team over humps. In this one, he scored the overtime winner that sent the Habs to the semi-finals. What a beauty it was too, a true sniper’s goal.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 18:53 TOI
Third Star – Erik Gustafsson
Easily his best game with the Habs. He scored a goal on the power play and created chances with his poise on the same man advantage. More than that, he played a bit more due to Petry’s absence and played quite well. It was safe, but he clearly has some skill with the puck, and it was a welcomed different look from the back end that kept the Jets guessing.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 shots, 13:13 TOI
Honourable Mention – Brendan Gallagher
I am convinced he played the Leafs series far from 100%. In this series, he has appeared to get better with every single game. He was dangerous all night long, driving Josh Morrissey nuts in the process. Here’s hoping he gets some rest because they’ll need Gallagher at his best against the Golden Knights or Avalanche.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 2 hits, 15:26 T.O.I.