2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals Game 2
VGK leads 1-0
How to watch
Start time: 9:00 PM EDT / 6:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the U.S.: NBCSN
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
Everything started off well for Montreal in Game 1. They were completely unfazed by the capacity crowd in Las Vegas, one that was loud as the game got set to begin, but then was quieted by Montreal’s four-line game that kept the Golden Knights defending in their own zone. Because of the work of Marc-Andre Fleury, that pressure didn’t result in the goal it had been during the Habs’ seven-game winning streak.
Instead it was the Golden Knights who scored the game’s first goal before the opening period came to a close, on a harmless looking point shot off a faceoff win that made its way in through traffic. The home side added another goal early in the second, and it was clear this series was going to be tougher — as expected — than the second-round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets.
It turned out that was all the offence Vegas needed as they went on to a 4-1 win to grab a series lead, and hand Montreal a loss for the first time since Game 4 of the Toronto Maple Leafs series on May 25.
Tale of the Tape
|49.0% (9th)||Corsi-for pct.||54.5% (5th)|
|2.42 (12th)||Goals per game||3.14 (4th)|
|2.33 (4th)||Goals against per game||2.29 (2nd)|
|20.0% (8th)||PP%||12.5% (15th)|
|91.4% (1st)||PK%||71.0% (12th)|
The loss was great news for people who’ve been trying to prognosticate the death of the Canadiens since it became clear they were going to make the post-season. The prophesies didn’t come true versus the Leafs, and certainly not versus the Winnipeg Jets, and this Stanley Cup Semifinal is far from done as well.
That doesn’t mean the Canadiens are guaranteed to get back in it. Vegas is the most complete team Montreal has played all season, and there are different challenges to face than they’ve been used to.
The first is a team that looks for the best shot rather than taking whatever look initially comes their way. We saw that on the 2-0 goal on Monday when Shea Theodore surprised everyone on the ice in a white jersey by checking his swing on a shot before moving it across to a wide-open Alec Martinez. Carey Price was 100% committed to the shot, and it was an easy goal that stood as the winner. The Golden Knights used the same strategy to extend the lead even further later in the game.
We did see Montreal start to copy that lateral play from the defence as the game went on, trying something the Colorado Avalanche were unwilling to do in their second-round set as they repeatedly blasted point shots off shin pads and watched their opponent counter. Moving the puck lower in the zone is the key to success, and Montreal is well equipped to play the down-low game and generate offence from their boardwork.
It would be much easier to play that type of game with the team’s best puck-handling defenceman in the mix, but Jeff Petry’s status is still unclear ahead of Game 2. He is close to playing and will be a game-time decision, but we don’t know how effective his passing will be after reportedly dislocating two fingers in the previous round. One change on the back end we will likely see is Brett Kulak exiting the formation after a rough outing in the first game. However, Kulak was far from alone, and the defence as a whole will need to improve from the opening contest.
One player who wasn’t feeling overwhelmed in the situation was Cole Caufield. He had a game-high six shots in his first match in the NHL’s final four, and confidently fired his first playoff goal into the net on the power play after using his trademarked talent of jumping up into the most dangerous area of the ice at the perfect moment. His line had a good night overall, leading the team in scoring opportunities at five-on-five.
There’s plenty of room for improvement from just about every member of the team, and that should be seen as a positive. The Canadiens weren’t so much outplayed as outwitted on some skilled passing plays and quick goals off faceoffs, and they have their first period as a template of what can work in the series. Putting that all into practice tonight could make the series narrative very different by the time they’re flying back home to Montreal.