The Montreal Canadiens should have been rolling into Game 3 against the Vegas Golden Knights with a boatload of swagger after scoring a massive win in Game 2 on Wednesday night. They potted three goals from three different players while getting a standout showing in net from Carey Price to bounce back from their opening game loss.
However, going into Friday, things got a bit more complicated as head coach Dominique Ducharme was unable to be on the bench following a positive test for COVID-19. Luke Richardson and Alex Burrows took over in his stead, and the rest of the tests came back negative for both the Canadiens and Golden Knights. While Ducharme was out, the lineup remained the same as it was in Game 2, with both Jon Merrill and Jeff Petry set to play.
The opening minutes of the game were tentative to say the least, as Vegas controlled the puck but did little with it, while Montreal was struggling to put any kind of pressure together at all. Vegas was given the first real chance of the game to break the scoreless draw, as Jesperi Kotkaniemi was whistled for a hook against Alec Martinez. The penalty kill was all about Price however, as the franchise cornerstone slammed the door shut on every chance the Knights created in tight.
The even-up call came soon enough for Montreal as Keegan Kolesar was sent to the box for interference behind the Habs’ net. Despite the power play looking much better in recent outings, the first attempt on Friday night wasn’t able to generate much, even with Nick Suzuki flinging no-look passes across the zone to Cole Caufield. In the end, the Habs managed just one shot from Phillip Danault as the advantage expired.
The only Hab who seemed to be fully engaged was Price as he denied Nicolas Roy on a partial breakaway, then held the line as the Golden Knights continued to swarm all around the Montreal crease. With an already large shot advantage, the Knights went back to the power play as Joel Armia was called for boarding. Again the Canadiens’ penalty kill stymied the opposition, keeping the game scoreless as the two sides headed into the first intermission.
Period two didn’t start much better for the Habs, as Shea Weber led Suzuki with a pass right into a massive hit from Brayden McNabb, on which Weber then took a penalty for retaliating. Even without their leading penalty-killer, Montreal kept Vegas off the board with relative ease and killed off the early minor penalty.
Unfortunately it was the Canadiens’ own errors that allowed Vegas to open the scoring, and it came from the usually sure-handed Eric Staal. The veteran centre collected a puck behind the net, and absent-mindedly flipped it out in front of Price — right onto Roy’s stick. The Vegas forward roofed his shot to give the visitors a much-deserved lead.
That lead lasted not even 40 seconds as the phenom duo of Suzuki and Caufield found the back of the net. Suzuki was able to grab a puck off a blocked shot, then feed a streaking Caufield, who calmly broke in alone on Marc-Andre Fleury and roofed his second goal of the playoffs to tie the game.
A nifty cutback by Caufield opened up a lane for another chance on Fleury, but this time the Knights goalie stood tall against the rookie.
Shortly after that, McNabb hammered Artturi Lehkonen twice, failing to draw a call, and then it was Kotkaniemi’s hook that caught the officials’ attention, giving Vegas another chance on the power play.
The Golden Knights failed again to score on their man advantage, keeping the Canadiens very much in the contest despite a massive shot differential. After letting so much go throughout the period, the officials finally gave the Habs another chance on the power play in the dying seconds of the period, meaning Montreal would start a crucial third period with fresh ice and plenty of power-play time.
Vegas started the third with a strong penalty kill, not allowing Montreal to set up or create any sort of pressure with their remaining power-play time.
Alex Pietrangelo then continued to haunt the Habs as he took a feed from Max Pacioretty and fired off a low shot that fooled Price, and the Golden Knights took the lead back early in the third.
It didn’t take long for Price to make amends for the goal against. Pacioretty fed a pass right to Alex Tuch, who was at the top of the crease for what should have been a tap-in goal. Instead it was Price kicking his leg out to make a miraculous save to keep the deficit at just one goal.
The Vegas forecheck did well to mitigate the Montreal attack as the home team pushed for a tying goal. As the NBC broadcast continued to fawn over Marc-Andre Fleury’s puck-handling abilities, the Canadiens were gifted an all-time playoff miracle. Fleury, almost lacksadaically, went to retrieve a dump-in behind his net, mishandled it into his skates, and kicked it back in front of his net, allowing Anderson all the time he needed to put it into the wide-open net.
A late push from the Habs fourth line almost yielded a late winner, but Fleury was able to stop the last push and send the game into overtime.
When ovvertime started, the pressure was all coming from the Montreal side. Somehow, as bad as the officiating was in the regulation periods, it was even worse in overtime as Corey Perry took a two-handed slash to the face. The play went uncalled, and blood gushed from Perry’s nose as he headed straight for the locker room for repairs.
Instead of getting off their game, the Canadiens went out and buried the dagger right into the heart of Vegas. Kotkaniemi flipped a pass ahead into the offensive zone, which Josh Anderson batted down to Paul Byron following closely behind. Byron slid the puck right back as they rushed to the net, and Anderson neatly tucked it home, giving the Canadiens a stunning 3-2 victory in overtime.
As the team celebrates with a blood-soaked Perry, the focus now shifts to the health of Dominique Ducharme, and to Game 4 on Sunday evening.