In more ways than one, Game 5 was likely to be the most crucial game of the series between the Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights. The team from Nevada was hammered for well over 60 minutes in Game 4, but an incredible game from Robin Lehner allowed the Knights to steal the game in overtime thanks to a Nicolas Roy goal.
The Habs also played arguably their best game of the playoffs in Game 4, in spite of the ending result. Now, they had to put forth another strong showing to avoid putting themselves against the wall and try to get the series back to Montreal with a series lead.
Ahead of Game 5 it looked as though the goat of Game 3 was going to get the start, however, and Marc-Andre Fleury was indeed back in the Vegas net. Also rejoining the lineup for Vegas was Chandler Stephenson, who had missed the last three games with a concussion.
Vegas poured the pressure on early, with their reunited top line being kept away from the lockdown line led by Phillip Danault. With that early pressure, the Knights also went to the game’s first power play as Paul Byron sat for a cross-check. Even with one of their leading penalty-killers in the box, the Canadiens were able to dispatch the Vegas man advantage without much effort from Carey Price between the pipes.
Despite the Golden Knights owning the flow of play, the Canadiens were able to counter-punch and find the back of the net first before the halfway point of the first period. Jesperi Kotkaniemi fired a stretch pass right to Josh Anderson, who left Nick Holden in his dust before cutting across Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease to get his shot off. Fleury made the initial stop, but failed to control the rebound, and that’s when Kotkaniemi jumped all over the loose puck and flicked it home as Fleury was caught swimming out of position.
As expected, the Knights came flying right back down the ice following the goal, with the top line finally making some sort of impact. Mark Stone danced around the stick-check attempt from Jon Merrill, and had a wide-open net staring at him, only for his shot to go wide of the net.
Montreal nearly added a second goal late in the period thanks to the hustle of Cole Caufield, who beat out an icing and sent Fleury scrambling to try to stop the attack. While Caufield didn’t create a chance, the next wave of attack did as a chipped shot from the side of the net sat precariously between Fleury’s feet, only to be cleared at the last moment by his defence. The Canadiens missed that opportunity, but went into the first intermission with a one-goal lead.
It looked like the Canadiens were going to get a huge opportunity at the start of the second period as Alex Pietrangelo’s errant stick cut Kotkaniemi’s lip open, giving Montreal a four-minute power play. That is until the officials reviewed it, and noted that because it was on a follow-through, there was no penalty for Pietrangelo on the play.
So the Canadiens just went down the ice and scored anyway after the reversed call. Nick Suzuki broke up a play along the goal line then started the breakout, eventually taking a pass along the boards in the Vegas end. From there he spun off his defender, firing a pass to Eric Staal in the slot, and Staal roofed his shot past Fleury to double the Montreal advantage.
Shortly after, Nicolas Roy took a penalty for high-sticking that stayed a penalty for high-sticking, giving the Canadiens their first power play of the night with a chance to put a stranglehold on the game. The kids struck gold once again on the man advantage, as Nick Suzuki picked Mark Stone’s pocket on a short-handed break, flinging the puck up to Corey Perry. Despite having the breakaway, Perry didn’t have the speed to go in alone, and so opted to backhand a pass to Caufield. The tiny winger continued his trend of scoring big goals.
Vegas didn’t help their own cause as Shea Theodore then took a seat for cross-checking, putting a dangerous Canadiens power play back on the ice. With a three-goal lead it was clear to see the Habs playing far looser, with the power play trying new things to get looks on net, but Fleury stood tall on the penalty kill, then stoned Joel Armia in tight with the very tip of his pad on the goal line.
The Knights had a late chance to get themselves back into the game as Shea Weber went off for a hook. Once again the Montreal penalty kill flustered the Knights, so much so that the fans in attendance began booing the team. In the end, Montreal killed another penalty and went into the intermission up by three goals.
As the third period started it was still Montreal frustrating the Vegas attack at every turn, but the Knights still managed to find the back of the net. Roy won the draw, and Max Pacioretty fanned his first shot, but then rifled the second one by Price to break the shutout bid.
Montreal set themselves in place to weather a hefty Vegas push as the game entered its final moments, and Price came up with a pair of massive saves on Reilly Smith to keep the Habs’ lead at two goals. The defence continued to stonewall the Knights, and even with Marc-Andre Fleury on the bench, Vegas failed to find another goal. Tyler Toffoli finally managed to get the puck out of the zone, and Nick Suzuki slammed home the empty-netter to seal the game with a 4-1 score.
Now, with Game 6 falling on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day this upcoming Thursday, the Canadiens have a chance to clinch a berth to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993.
Allons-y les gars!