Montreal Canadiens split up Stanley Cup Semifinal with big Game 2 triumph
The Montreal Canadiens got off to a great start on Wednesday night. Their biggest difference was not going down 1-0 after 20 minutes. Instead, Montreal scored twice to take a 2-0 lead into intermission behind goals by Joel Armia and Tyler Toffoli.
Carey Price again had a relatively easy first period while having to stop just four shots. He almost could have rented out a beach chair at T-Mobile Arena. It turns out that start and a late second-period goal by Paul Byron were all Montreal needed on Wednesday night.
They held on to win 3-2, even the series, and headed back to Montreal with an all-important split. The key for the Canadiens was their ability to stick to their system even when score effects took over.
Surviving the score effects…
Vegas outshot Montreal 27-11 over the final two periods. The long chance was problematic for Montreal once again. The Golden Knights generated and dictated play a lot better in the second 20 but goals were even at one. Despite the shot differential, high-danger chances at even strength were pretty even (8-7 Vegas) over the final 40 minutes.
Vegas had Montreal on the ropes throughout the second half of the game. The difference was Carey Price and the team defense. They did just enough to turn the Golden Knights away. Yes, there were the two goals from Alex Pietrangelo. That made things interesting. Also, Tyler Toffoli made a few big shot blocks in the third period to preserve the lead. Not only is Toffoli a goal scorer but his two-way game is pretty good. Often, it is overlooked.
It was interesting to see Cole Caufield paired with Toffoli. The pair’s apparent chemistry paid off late in the first period when Toffoli swooped in with speed. Caufield set the winger up perfectly and just like that the puck was in the net to make it 2-0.
Extending his points streak to 8 games via the 2-0 goal on Wednesday, Tyler Toffoli leads the @CanadiensMTL 2021 playoff run with an almost point-per-game pace (12 in 13 GP). It's a total that's 6th on this list among those in their 1st season as a member of the Habs organization pic.twitter.com/BDMSMIGG8C
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) June 17, 2021
Toffoli has been this rock all season long. Yes, other players have had more gaudy offensive totals, but an eight-game point streak is very impressive. Montreal needed timely scoring to steal a game in Vegas. They found a way to get in time and time again on Wednesday night.
Against all odds…
It is not often a team wins without generating a single man-advantage but that is just what Montreal did on Wednesday night. Now, Montreal was quite disciplined for the most part too. Vegas only had two power-play opportunities. Predictably, the Canadiens killed those power-plays off as the Golden Knights are 0 for 6 on the series.
Carey Price stopped 29 of 31 shots for Montreal and again made the saves he had to. The goaltender bounced back from an inauspicious Game 1. Even when the Canadiens looked like they would break, Price made sure they would only bend heavily.
That was the most vital part of this game. It was Montreal’s ability to just keep surviving. This is what got them past Toronto and Winnipeg. Now, it has them heading home with a home-ice advantage. Quite a few experts were expecting a short series after Game 1. Their tune has changed a little.
For as physical as Vegas has been, Montreal showed a little of that physical mobility needed to compete against Vegas. They will need to do that for the rest of the series.
A dash of Montreal and a dash of the Ducharme
As expected this run likely will do some good for Dominique Ducharme’s job status with Montreal.
LeBrun on Insider Trading discussing Dominique Ducharme's interim status: "They'll be dropping that interim tag.." #GoHabsGo
— NHL Watcher (@NHL_Watcher) June 16, 2021
Again, Ducharme found a way to make all of this work. It has not been easy for Montreal and Ducharme has taken his shots. However, the “interim” coach has taken a few of his own and they have paid off. It will be intriguing to see how the rest of this series plays out.
The coach was angry at the unblocked shot attempts again coming from faceoffs. That led to both of the goals for Vegas on Wednesday night. He felt that must be corrected at all costs. Montreal has indeed struggled with that all season (27th in the league at unblocked shot attempts allowed). That is part of why their penalty kill was tied for 23rd during the regular season.
Game 3 on Friday night will be raucous in Montreal even without a sold-out crowd. The atmosphere alone ought to be electric. Montreal has things to work on but they have put themselves in a position to take control of the series. That is all anyone can ask.