The Montreal Canadiens entering Monday’s Game 2 with a bit more swagger than they had for Game 1. They had reason to be riding high, having pulled off the overtime win in game one, and doing so with a massive showing from Nick Suzuki and Carey Price who was in top form to stymie the Pittsburgh Penguins’ attack. Jeff Petry’s overtime winner was an emphatic exclamation point that, even as the lowest-seeded team, Montreal was not to be taken lightly.
With a win in their pocket, the Canadiens opted to keep their lineup the same for Game 2. The Penguins, despite their costly errors on Saturday, stuck with Matt Murray and Jack Johnson in their lineup.
The game started far better for Montreal than Saturday’s, when they were shelled for the opening 10 minutes by a dangerous Penguins offence. The Habs maintained offensive-zone pressure on Monday night, with multiple lines generating some pressure before Pittsburgh could clear the puck. In fact, the Penguins’ best scoring chance came when Dale Weise misplayed a puck into Carey Price’s pads, that the goaltender had to react to quickly.
Even with the play going against them, the Penguins got on the board first this time, as Sidney Crosby jumped on the ice with a sneaky change, sliding in behind a backchecking Joel Armia and easily tucking his shot through Price’s five-hole for an early Pittsburgh lead.
Montreal didn’t make it much easier on themselves, as an ill-timed change led to a too many men on the ice call and a Pittsburgh power play. A strong kill from Price and a heroic effort by Joel Armia to generate some short-handed chances helped to see out the early penalty, and the Canadiens headed to an advantage of their own shortly after. A Jonathan Drouin drop-pass to no one and an Armia penalty brought the power play to a premature end, shifting the play to four-on-four.
Even that didn’t last long, as Brett Kulak using his skating to draw a holding call when he tried to wedge a wraparound shot past Matt Murray as the net was forced off its moorings. In keeping with the theme of the period, Montreal managed to take another too many men penalty, putting Pittsburgh back on an abbreviated advantage. As the period wound down, neither side managed any real pressure, sending them to the intermission with Montreal trailing by a goal.
The second period started with the Penguins swarming all over Montreal, yet it was Carey Price still standing tall in his net to deny multiple goals. When Montreal did finally generate some offensive pressure, the pesky behavior of Brendan Gallagher ended up drawing them a power play. The advantage again couldn’t find the back of the net, but on a positive note also didn’t negate itself midway through.
Armia’s rough night continued as he was called for hooking just past the halfway point of the period, giving the Penguins another crack on the power play. It was again Price showing off on the penalty kill as he battled through multiple Pittsburgh players to smother a loose puck in his crease. Even as Patric Hornqvist dug away, Price gloved it calmly to cancel out the attack and keep the deficit at just one goal.
Armia wasn’t out of the box for long, as he collided with Justin Schultz who was reaching for a puck, getting called for an interference penalty. When the dust settled on a small scrum, Evgeni Malkin and Shea Weber also took a seat for matching roughing minors after the play.
The final few minutes of the period felt like an eternity as the Penguins dominated the puck, refusing to budge at all in the Montreal zone. Price fended off all comers, including a pair of breakaway chances from Zach Aston-Reese and Bryan Rust in the dying moments of the period. All in all, to still only be trailing by one goal after two periods was nothing short of a miracle for Montreal.
Kulak, likely tired of playing in his own end, started the third period by creating an odd-man rush, then sliding a pass around Kris Letang to Tatar. The Habs forward got off a great chance, but Murray blocked it down with his shoulder, denying Tatar a goal. The Montreal pressure didn’t yield from there as Max Domi’s line Crosby’s on their back foot in the offensive zone as they looked to tie the game up.
Montreal still could not find a breakthrough and Pittsburgh was content to coast the remainder of the game out as the third wore on. Kulak jumped up on a big rush late in the period, and was caught in deep as the play transitioned the other way. With one defenceman out of his usual spot, a feed to Jason Zucker put the Penguins up by a pair, a seemingly insurmountable lead on this particular Monday night.
The Habs did not quit even after that goal, and with just under three minutes left to play they finally got on the board. Artturi Lehkonen kept the puck on a string, weaving through the Penguins’ defence to get a shot on goal. His shot created a rebound and it was Jesperi Kotkaniemi who was all over the rebound, slotting home his second goal in as many games, giving Montreal a glimmer of hope.
With Price on the bench the Canadiens pushed for an equalizer, but there wasn’t one to be found. Jake Guentzel put home an empty-netter to seal the game for Pittsburgh.
It’s a tough loss to stomach, but the performance of Price has to give a boost to the team knowing he’s more than capable of keeping the team in the game at all times. Game 3 is Wednesday night, where Montreal will be the home team with the benefit of last change. It remains to be seen if Claude Julien will tweak his lineup.