Stanley Cup Qualifiers: Game 2
How to watch
The Montreal Canadiens, who finished in 24th place in the NHL standings, didn’t deserve to get a place in this pandemic-delayed post-season. Outside of their possession play, no aspect of their game was ranked them among the top half of clubs that get to compete for the Stanley Cup.
In the opening minutes of Saturday’s game versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Habs certainly looked like a team well out of its depth. The Eastern Conference’s fifth seed was all over them early, racking up shots and looking close to netting a goal and opening the floodgates.
It was only thanks to Carey Price’s determination to keep his opponent off the scoreboard that the Canadiens survived the onslaught. He faced 10 shots before the halfway mark of the period, and turned every one aside to inspire his teammates to rise up to the opponent’s level. Thanks to that play Montreal slowly found their footing, and not only came out even in the opening frame, but ahead on the scoreboard.
They lost a multi-goal lead before regulation ended, but dictated the play in overtime, and were in position to capitalize on a bounce as a result to take a big 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Tale of the Tape
|3.00||Goals per game||2.00|
|2.00||Goals against per game||3.00|
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that it was Jeff Petry getting the goal. Only five players have scored more in overtime in the past two regular seasons, and he showed thosee same offensive instincts on Saturday’s winning goal. It was a strong game overall for Petry and his partner, Brett Kulak.
The pair will need to be up to that same level, because we also saw how good Pittsburgh’s second duo can be. John Marino and Marcus Pettersson did a very good job in their minutes while the first pairs for both sides were focused on the top offensive players. Both coaches will be quite happy with their top-four defencemen as they enter the second game of the series.
The relatively even performance of the teams after the opening minutes will be regarded very differently by the bench bosses. Mike Sullivan went into the game knowing he had the better squad, and probably expected to dictate more of the play throughout the game. Meanwhile, Claude Julien knows his side was lucky to escape the early pressure unscathed, and will try to prepare his team better for tonight’s game, but he also saw his side steadily grow in confidence and play a surprising disciplined style of hockey toward the end of the game; a source of exasperation for much of the regular season as he felt the product on the ice didn’t match the strategies relayed in practice.
Julien has little to be upset about from his squad of 20 players, so a change on Montreal’s side would be surprising. Sullivan has more questions to ask after falling in an 0-1 hole, two losses away from a shocking end to his post-season run. His third line wasn’t particularly good, giving the Canadiens the majority of the possession and scoring chances in time on the ice. Given how Montreal’s young centremen fared against his team overall, he may feel the need to give his bottom six a bit of a shake.
Then there’s the matter of the goaltending. Matt Murray only allowed three goals through 74 minutes of play, but we learned the coach had debated which member of his tandem to start in the opening game, ultimately going with experience. The past two nights have likely had the coach thinking about that stance, and the prospect of Murray dropping two games while Tristan Jarry — the statistically superior goalie — sits on the bench. In a seven-game series, he probably sticks with his initial instincts. In a best-of-five battle? There is a decision to be made.
Sullivan’s biggest hope will be for his power play to get going. One thing Montreal did a poor job of was staying out of the box, with Phillip Danault deemed guilty of three separate infractions, but the Penguins only took advantage once. The Habs can’t afford to hand over seven chances again tonight, and Pittsburgh will hope to use their star-power advantage to greater effect when the opportunities come their way.