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The Montreal Canadiens are creating their own magic

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The Canadiens may have been escape artists in Game 3, but there were many hands involved in executing the final trick.

NHL: Vegas at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, even as the Montreal Canadiens were getting heavily outshot in the first two periods of Game 3, I didn’t feel worried for them. Of course, they didn’t look like they had a strong grip on victory, but it didn’t seem to be slipping away. The Habs looked almost comfortable under the barrage of shots. No visible signs of frustration, offensive cheating, or desperation. They had been there. The score was tied. Carey Price was in net. Everything was fine. And it turned out to be in the end.

Some things are beyond the scope of analysis, and the 2021 Canadiens are approaching that territory. They shouldn’t have won that game, but the stars aligned, and somehow, some way, they won. In beautiful fashion, too.

That overtime period reminded everyone of the Habs’ skill. They are not just a turtling team; they can make the highlight-reel plays. And not just the ones that feature in a montage at the end of the week and are subsequently forgotten. The ones that stay with you for weeks, for months. The ones that have a higher significance, a kind of poetic justice; the climax of a great story.

Like in every great story, those glorious moments often come from unlikely heroes: The Paul Byrons of the world.

Not to take away from Josh Anderson’s impact on the overtime-winner. After all, he’s the one who knocked the puck out of mid-air and then put it in. And the Habs wouldn’t have even been in a position to make that play had he not scored the tying goal. The actual open-net tally was a gift, but he created the dump-in in the first place, getting his stick on the puck with a defender draped over him — another display of hand-eye coordination.

But I found myself rewinding the overtime goal over again not for Anderson’s deflection, but for Byron’s pass.

Byron goes games without showing his high-level skills, months even in the regular season, but those skills are there, sitting in his tool bag, ready for the taking when the right situation presents itself. Like in his short-handed breakaway (there were hundreds in Byron’s career, but now there is ‘‘the’’ short-handed breakaway) and this two-on-zero in Game 3.

The sell job. The pass. Marc-André Fleury had had a rough night already, but ending it like this is even tougher on his morale. The outcome was complete. No chance. Curtain. Done.

Most bottom-six, checking forwards would stop striding on that rush once they reached the top of the circle. They would cut their motor, glide, fake a shot, and then turn the move into a pass. Maybe the puck goes in anyway in that case. But Byron took the extra step. He ensured the goal by faking an in-stride release instead, and did so with his entire body, with his weight leaning and pressing on his stick, with his shoulders and hips aligned toward the net, with his top hand pointing down and pushed away from his body. He committed fully to his deceptive act, and in turn Fleury committed fully to him, leaving Anderson a wide-open net.

Here is the goal, if you want to see it again.

I left the forechecking sequence that preceded the goal in the video.

The Danault line prepared the game-winner by sustaining pressure on the Vegas Golden Knights on the shift prior. Alex Pietrangelo, tired from defending and wanting to change as quickly as possible, settled for a stretch lob pass on his breakout, a play that had little chance of working. He didn’t even wait to see the result of his bomb before skating to the bench.

Momentum isn’t some sort of magical thing that suddenly invests players during a game. You create it when each shift builds into the next one, when each line creates better offensive conditions for the one that comes after, by sustaining offensive pressure, tiring opponents, and forcing them to play catch-up, to change in poor conditions, and fall behind even more, until ultimately, they break down.

Montreal applied that formula perfectly in overtime. They created their magic.