The key to the Montreal Canadiens getting a positive result in Las Vegas was an up-tempo style. With no reason to conserve energy with nearly a week off afterward, there was a chance to employ the three-zone offensive attack that has been the hallmark of the 2018-19 Canadiens.
That’s precisely what the team was able to do on the first goal less that four minutes into the game. Tomas Tatar broke out of his own zone with the puck, getting it to Brendan Gallagher with a pass that traversed the offensive blue line. Gallagher was able to find Phillip Danault, who one-timed the puck to the opposite side of the net for his third goal of the season.
As they’ve shown all season long, the Habs aren’t ones to let up just because there’s a bigger number under their name on the scoreboard. Artturi Lehkonen was close to a break on a shift moments later, but was held up slightly on his path to the net. Max Domi followed up with a second chance, and Victor Mete had a third in the chaos all around Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease, only stopped by a whistle after the Vegas Golden Knights’ netminder’s mask came loose.
Paul Byron had a breakaway of his own, though didn’t score, and drew an interference penalty when the threat of him going in alone once more forced a flatfooted Brayden McNabb to knock him down. The power play wasn’t able to generate a goal, and the kill allowed Vegas to get back in the game.
A series of lost puck battles that began with an intercepted pass on a zone exit had the Canadiens chasing in their own end, and the sequence ended with Brandon Pirri tying the game after being unchecked at the side of the goal. Vegas used the marker to carry the edge in play to the end of the period, but no more goals resulted.
Around four minutes into the second, Danault’s line was buzzing around the offensive zone, turning battles along the boards into a few good chances to take back the lead. However, the line was still on the ice when the play went back to their end, and there was little energy left for defence at the end of a long shift. It helped the Golden Knights move the puck around more easily, and Jonathan Marchessault pounced on a rebound before any Hab could cover him to put the home team ahead.
The lead lasted about three minutes until the Canadiens got established in the offensive zone. A point shot from Jordie Benn was tipped by Danault from a trajectory taking it wide of the net to one that placed it behind Fleury. The play was reviewed to see if the centre’s stick had been above the crossbar, but inconclusive camera angles meant the original call of a goal stood as the official call, giving Danault his second goal of the contest.
Mete tried his best to set up Danault’s third goal on his next shift, waiting for him to get in position before sending him a pass. But neither that play nor a power move from Danault himself to move in on Fleury did the trick.
An attempted line change went awry for Montreal with six minutes remaining. McNabb prevented the puck from being dumped into the zone, sending a chip-pass up the ice. Pirri was left all alone as the defence was being swapped, and he was able to slide the puck through the five-hole as Price was unable to close it off with his stick.
Despite 14 shots in the period, the Canadiens were outscored 2-1 in the frame, and entered the second intermission down a goal.
A power-play chance five minutes into the third had a few good looks from the second unit, but didn’t find a goal.
A rush up the ice from Mete got the puck to Jonathan Drouin later in the frame, but his shot hit Fleury right in the crest, and the play amounted to nothing.
With two minutes left, Price went to the bench, but no skater jumped on the ice to replace him. Playing at normal strength without a goaltender, the Golden Knights came down the ice to seal the game, but a desperate effort kept them from doing so.
Back in the offensive zone with all six skaters they were allowed to have, Max Domi put the puck on Danault’s stick, but the centre hit Fleury and then the post. He wasn’t leaving the T-Mobile Arena ice without his hat trick, however, pouncing on the puck to tie the game with 85 seconds on the clock.
The point wasn’t secured there. The Knights spent the final seconds of the period in Montreal’s end and came close to getting the go-ahead goal, but last-gasp efforts from Price and his defence were enough to get them to the bell still on their feet.
Controlling possession in overtime, Mete got the puck to Domi at Vegas’s blue line, and went to the net looking for a return pass that never came. Heading back to the bench at the end of an eventful shift, he poked the puck back to Domi on his way, who in turn found Paul Byron near the net. Byron delayed long enough on his backhand to get Fleury to make the first move, and tossed it in to finish off the come-from-behind win.
The victory gave the Canadiens a winning record in the first of two holiday road trips straddling the Christmas break, actually adding a bit more breathing room at a time when they usually fall a spot or two in the standings. They’re clear of the next-closest team in the wild-card chase by five points; a crucial difference given that the New York Rangers and Islanders have played fewer games.
The Canadiens players can relax with family knowing they put forth a great effort in Las Vegas, and will be rejuvenated when they venture back into the Atlantic Division for a trip through Florida, starting with a match against the Panthers on December 28.