It was a much different game from the first one, with both the Canadiens and the Jets cautious from the start, looking to avoid giveaways that might result in a goal against. Both Connor Hellebuyck and Carey Price played outstanding games, but once again Price was Right in the playoffs, and the Habs were able to leave the ‘Peg with 1-0 win and a solid 2-0 series lead.
There were bound to be lineup adjustments for the second game of the series, with Jake Evans having suffered a concussion from a charge by Mark Scheifele at the end of the game; Artturi Lehkonen would take Evans’ place next to Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. Erik Gustafsson also looked unlikely after his mistake cost the Habs a goal, gluing him to the bench for the third period but head coach Dominque Ducharme confirmed his confidence in Gustafsson.
Winnipeg’s adjustments were worse: Paul Stastny had injured himself in the first game’s warmup and Dylan DeMelo suffered an ankle injury early in the first period. Also, Scheifele was suspended for four games for his (successful) attempt to injure Evans. Jordie Benn, Jansen Harkins, and Kristian Vesalainen stepped in to fill in the gaps in the lineup with Dominic Toninato also being scratched.
No One Wants to Give Up the First Goal
The first period felt very tentative as neither team seemed to take many risks. The Jets held the early edge in possession, including some sustained pressure in the Montreal zone, but generated little in terms of dangerous opportunities.
The Habs came alive at the halfway point of the period, sparked by the effort of the fourth line of Corey Perry, Eric Staal, and Joel Armia. Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s line jumped into action next and followed their example, leading to a period of sustained Montreal attack.
The fourth line was indeed the brightest spot in the period, buzzing around Connor Hellebuyck’s goal ith abandon and recording most of Montreal’s scoring opportunities – and all three of the high-danger ones. One of those resulted from a seeing-eye pass from Armia to Perry at the corner of the net where the veteran had two attempts to flip the puck over Hellebuyck’s right pad.
Winnipeg’s best chance came with just under two minutes left on the clock with Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois streaking into the Habs’ zone on a two-on-one break with “danger” written all over it. Ben Chiarot timed his sliding block perfectly, though, and Connor’s attempted pass to Dubois bounced away harmlessly.
A Second Short One
The (very few) fans were barely in their seats for the start of the second period by the time Paul Byron was called for high-sticking on Adam Lowry, for the first penalty of the game. The Jets’ power play was organized if not particularly dangerous when Shea Weber picked up a loose puck behind the goal line and quickly tapped it to a rapidly accelerating Tyler Toffoli.
Lehkonen joined Toffoli for a two-on-one break, with Josh Morrissey the only Jets defender. When Morrissey slid and sprawled to block the pass to Lehkonen, Toffoli executed a tidy toe drag and then wristed the puck into the top left corner, above Hellebuyck’s right shoulder to draw first blood. It was the Habs’ second short-handed goal of the playoffs, and, more importantly, a 1-0 edge in the game.
A few minutes later, Nick Suzuki got the puck to Joel Edmundson in the Winnipeg zone, who quickly passed it to Gallagher. Gallagher’s shot hit Hellebuyck square on and rebounded up in the air. It then bounced off Jets’ tallest defenceman, Logan Stanley, and back to the front of the net, but this time Gallagher was unable to get his stick on it.
Beyond these, the scoring chances were relatively few and far between for either side in the period but with Montreal in the lead, they certainly didn’t mind.
Three Breakaways for Nought
Just under a minute into the final period, Kotkaniemi beat Andrew Copp in a faceoff in Winnipeg’s zone to give Habs the early attack. Seconds later, he was on Hellebuyck’s doorstep with a solid scoring chance, but the Jets’ goalie shut the door on the Habs’ young Finn’s wrist shot and did so again when Kotkaniemi attempted to tap in the rebound.
After some early Winnipeg pressure, Weber was called for interference when Nikolaj Ehlers sprawled on the ice after making light contact with the Canadiens’ captain. It was two minutes of playing at a man disadvantage, but the Montreal penalty killers continued their excellent work, breaking up power plays and preventing zone entries. No short-hander this time, though, just a solid penalty kill.
The Jets piled on the pressure after the power play, though, maintaining pressure in the Montreal zone. The Habs’ defensive formation was successful in keeping the play to the outside, though, giving few real scoring opportunities to the Winnipeg forwards.
As the clock ticked down inexorably toward zero, the Jets attempted to crank up the pressure but were repeatedly caught out by the Habs’ relentless forechecking. Seven minutes left, Paul Byron and Josh Anderson broke out on a two-on-one – saved by Hellebuyck. A minute later, Nick Suzuki and Toffoli did the same, again foiled by the Jets’ goaltender. And another minute later, a chance again as Kotkaniemi broke in, only to have Hellebuyck bar the door again.
The Winnipeg pressure was fierce in the final minutes of the game with six shots in the final three minutes. Hellebuyck headed for the bench with just a couple of minutes left, but it was not to be enough as the Habs’ defence held and Price was unflappable in net. Toffoli had a chance for an empty-netter but hit the post, and Danault’s attempt to score on the rebound was blocked by Neal Pionk sliding across the front of the net.
A 1-0 shutout, then the first of the 2021 playoffs for Price, and a solid position to be in as the series shifts back to Montreal for the next two games.
HW Habs 3 Stars
First Star: Tyler Toffoli
The first goal, the winning goal, and yet another short-handed goal, all in one, there is no one else who could take that first star away from Toffoli.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 shot, 14:16 TOI
Second Star: Carey Price
A shutout performance is bound to be star-worthy, but truthfully the 22 saves Price had made by the middle of the third period had not pushed him very hard. It was his performance in the final minutes of the game that clinched him the well-earned second star.
Stats: 28 shots, 0 goals, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 save percentage
Third Star: Corey Perry
No results on the scoresheet for Perry’s fourth unit, but it was not for the lack of effort or opportunity. Perry, Armia, and Staal pressed the Jets and created numerous chances. The bounces did not go their way – this time.
Stats: 2 shots, 1 block, 13:14 TOI
Honourable Mention: Jesperi Kotkaniemi
This time there were numerous worthy candidates, including Cole Caufield with five shots on goal, but Kotkaniemi gets the mention thanks to a dominant performance on the ice, with a 9-5 edge in shots while on ice – five by Kotkaniemi himself – and a 5-1 edge in high-danger scoring chances.
Stats: 5 shots, 1 hit, 75% FO, 13:13 TOI