The Montreal Canadiens are continuing to embarrass hockey prognosticators and defy logic, as the club with the worst regular-season record to qualify for the playoffs beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in overtime at the Bell Centre on Thursday to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
The Habs have been able to stymie clubs with more talent and higher-powered offenses with timely scoring, ferocious forechecking, and a top-four defensive corps that impedes traffic from getting to goalie Carey Price.
Price has been excellent in victories over Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas, but has not needed to be superhuman as many had expected would be necessary for Montreal to get to the Cup Final, thanks to Joel Edmundson, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, and Ben Chiarot.
As with all success stories, luck has been a central component. Montreal benefited from the unfortunate and unintentional injury to Toronto center John Tavares in the first round, enabling them to focus on shutting down Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and putting pressure on a Leafs’ club who has made a habit of folding at the worst possible time.
In the second round, Jets center Mark Scheifele’s needless check on Montreal forward Jake Evans at the end of Game 1 in the second round deprived Winnipeg of their best forward and made it less of a challenge for the Canadiens to shut the Jets down in a four-game sweep.
Against Vegas, the Habs had to forge forward without interim coach Dominque Ducharme (who tested positive for COVID-19 early in the series) with assistants Luke Richardson and Alex Burrows behind the bench but were able to take advantage of the slower Golden Knights, who could not decide on a starting goalie after Marc-Andre Fleury’s late-game flub in Game 3 and failed to get any consistent offense from their top-six forwards after losing Chandler Stephenson in Game 1.
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Rookie Cole Caufield provided some speed when inserted in the Canadiens lineup in Game 3 of the Toronto series, but had only two assists in seven playoff games before the diminutive winger broke out with four goals against the Golden Knights.
Almost every move that GM Marc Bergevin made prior to and during the season has yielded dividends. Josh Anderson has been a physical presence in the playoffs and scored the tying and winning goals in overtime of Game 3, veteran Corey Perry has repeated what he did in Dallas with a great playoff performance after a subpar regular season and youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi have stepped up their performances as they did in the bubble last August.
The Canadiens will await the result of the deciding game between Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders and take their place as an underdog in the Cup Final starting on Monday, but based on what has happened over the last five weeks, that is just where they want to be.