The first week of Montreal’s semifinal series against Vegas has been a successful one as the Habs grabbed home-ice advantage with a split on the road and then stole a victory on home ice to grab the lead.
The Week That Was
June 14: Golden Knights 4, Canadiens 1 – After being off for more than a week, the Habs were looking to avoid a slow start like Winnipeg had a round ago in the first game. They got off to a very good start but couldn’t beat Marc-Andre Fleury. Vegas found their skating legs and started taking it to Montreal although Cole Caufield’s first career playoff goal cut the gap to one partway through the second period. However, Mattias Janmark got that back a minute later, effectively locking up the win while Nick Holden added one in the third for good measure.
June 16: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 – This time, Montreal was able to capitalize on their strong start (and Vegas starting slow once again) as Joel Armia and Tyler Toffoli scored in the first while Paul Byron added one late in the second aided by a questionable Marc-Andre Fleury decision. Then Vegas woke up, scored one shortly thereafter, and simply dominated the third period. Carey Price was sharp, however, and the Habs were able to hold on for dear life enough to secure the win.
June 18: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT) – For the most part, this game resembled the third period as Vegas was all over Montreal for the first 40 minutes where it was a minor miracle that the game was tied at one through two periods with Caufield’s second of the series erasing an atrocious Eric Staal giveaway that ended up in the net seconds earlier. Alex Pietrangelo’s hot start to the series continued when he beat Price on a very stoppable shot before a questionable Marc-Andre Fleury decision aided the Habs again. With less than two minutes left, he fumbled the puck behind the net, kicking the puck right to Josh Anderson for an empty-netter to send it to overtime. Montreal was much better in the extra session and another rare 2-on-0 yielded the winner with Paul Byron setting Anderson up for the winner.
Goals: Armia/Toffoli (5)
Assists: Tyler Toffoli (7)
Points: Tyler Toffoli (12)
+/-: Armia/Gustafsson (+4)
PIMS: Shea Weber (20)
Shots: Tyler Toffoli (33)
News And Notes
– The Habs got some good news on the injury front as Jeff Petry and Jon Merrill were able to return for the second game of the series. That leaves Jake Evans (concussion) as the lone injured player on the active roster. He has been skating with a non-contact jersey so he appears to also be close to a return.
– With only three power play goals allowed and four shorthanded goals scored, Montreal’s net penalty kill percentage is 102.4%. Not bad for a unit that was tied with Toronto for 23rd in penalty kill percentage this season.
– Vegas’ opening goal in Game 1 snapped Montreal’s streak of not trailing in a game. It came to an end at 447:08, a little over 41 minutes shy of the all-time record set by the Habs back in 1960.
Last Game’s Lines:
Toffoli – Suzuki – Caufield
Lehkonen – Danault – Gallagher
Byron – Kotkaniemi – Anderson
Armia – Staal – Perry
Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Gustafsson – Merrill
The Week Ahead
Three games down and as many as four more to go. Here’s the rest of the series schedule.
Game 4: June 20 in Montreal
Game 5: June 22 in Vegas
Game 6: June 24 in Montreal*
Game 7: June 26 in Vegas*
*- if necessary
The biggest news of the week in Montreal was head coach Dominique Ducharme testing positive for COVID-19, resulting in a two-week quarantine that will keep him out for the rest of the series. While Luke Richardson was the logical choice to assume the interim coaching duties, I was a little surprised that Joel Bouchard isn’t at least being brought in to assist the group. Sean Burke is a veteran coach but he’s a goalie coach, not someone who has a lot of experience running the defence or special teams units.
It turns out there’s a reason for this as Bouchard is no longer part of the bubble following the second round which begs a pretty big question – Why? Yes, the Black Aces squad doesn’t need a whole lot of coaching to run them through their practices which is basically generic skating drills to stay sharp but on the surface, there doesn’t appear to be a viable hockey-related reason to leave. While no one could have expected Ducharme to test positive at random, this was already a staff that was down a coach from the start of the season since Ducharme’s assistant coaching position was never filled (Alex Burrows took over for Kirk Muller). It seems to me that taking another coach out of the day-to-day equation is a bit of an odd decision.
There are a variety of possible non-hockey reasons for Bouchard to leave and it’s not fair to speculate on if one of those is the reason. But boy, what an inopportune time for it to happen as having Bouchard around on the bench in Richardson’s spot leaving Burke to do his work from the press box like normal. Ducharme can still be involved from afar unlike last year when Claude Julien was hospitalized which helps a bit but another body onsite would have been better. Oh well, add it to the list of weird things happening in a weird season. Who knows if it’ll be the last one.