It has been a fun and unexpected run for the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal starts off this round as heavy underdogs (like in Round 1) against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The North Division playoff champions face the best even-strength team in the league that is left. Vegas can easily generate 35 shots a night or more. Carey Price will have to be at his best from the opening puck drop. Rust need not apply. Remember, Montreal enjoyed a week off after eliminating the Winnipeg Jets last Monday night.
One interesting facet. maybe a question is this. Does Vegas get caught relaxing a bit? The New York Islanders caught the Tampa Bay Lighting by surprise on Sunday. Could that happen again? Anything is possible in these playoffs. If Semyon Varlamov can turn in another excellent performance, why can’t Carey Price? Price leads all goalies with a .935 save percentage so far by the way.
Quick keys for tonight’s Game 1 between Montreal and Vegas
There are several obvious ones. Carey Price outplaying Marc-Andre Fleury is not as important as one would think. More paramount is Price weathering the storm early and often. No one knows quite what to expect. Vegas also had a pretty significant break of four days between games.
The curious part tonight will be how Dominique Ducharme matches lines against Vegas. The twist in this postseason is that the Golden Knights again have two heavy scoring lines. Also, Vegas possesses two depth lines that can cause chaos.
Montreal will probably be without Jake Evans and Jeff Petry. At least, they traveled with the team which means they are quite close. Those are two vital players. Evans can give Montreal that neutralizing second center vital to thwarting some of Vegas’ advances. Petry is another puck-moving defenseman desperately needed versus a Golden Knights squad that can transition very quickly.
The Montreal Canadiens carry a speedy transition game of their own. Now, how often do they unleash that? Do they have the ability to do so? The thought process dictates that Montreal should be rustier. These playoffs, however, make this more of a guessing game. Montreal came out and scored three goals against Winnipeg (nearly four) on little rest. The pace is vital in Game 1. Montreal wants less chaos.
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A few more points before Game 1
Surprisingly, Montreal comes into this round with better special teams numbers than Vegas.
Their penalty kill is tops in the playoffs at 90.32% and their power-play is just below 19%. The Vegas man advantage is only 4 for 28. The regular-season numbers are quite jumbled around in comparison.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been historically bad against the Montreal Canadiens. That may mean something and it may not. He has just a .897 save percentage and 3.12 goals against average in 42 games. Most of those were with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Vegas plays a style where chances may come few and far between at times. Can Fleury be clutch in those moments?
Can Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield continue to create against Vegas? It will be intriguing to see who Vegas pairs against this duo. There may be some opportunities due to their youthful exuberance alone.
Will the Phillip Danault line be able to slow down Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty? Could that line counter with chances of their own? Again, there are plenty of questions and unknowns here.
This will be quite the series. Montreal is literally playing with house money. All the pressure is on Vegas to win. It sets up to be some Game 1.
We will be on social media throughout the night as puck drop is scheduled just after 9:00 p.m. ET.
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