Going into Game 1, Dominique Ducharme had no reason to make any changes to his lineup and so kept the same one that closed out the series with Toronto. There was good news however, in that Artturi Lehkonen was given the green light to play, but the team didn’t want to rush him back.
For the Jets, they were dealt a blow before he series even started as Paul Stastny wasn’t fit to play, leaving them without their usual second-line centre to start the series.
Facing a new attack and defensive system, the start was somewhat tentative for the Canadiens, but that changed in a hurry thanks to a resurgent bottom six showing its talents again. Jeff Petry smartly held the puck along the blue line, and waited for an open lane to materialize. When it did, he fired a picturesque slap-pass right to a cutting Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who easily redirected it by Connor Hellebuyck for an early Montreal lead.
That lead grew to two thanks to a massive shift from Joel Edmundson and the fourth line in the Winnipeg zone. Edmundson worked it in deep, and after collecting a rebound on his own chance along the goal line, he left it for Corey Perry. The veteran winger skated right toward Hellebuyck, drawing Logan Stanley directly at him. Stanley delivered a massive hit, but Perry had already fed the puck to Eric Staal, who easily scored for the two-goal Habs lead.
Montreal did slow their own momentum a bit, with Jake Evans taking a seat for elbowing. The Jets’ power play looked much more fearsome than Toronto’s, but some key stops from Carey Price saw the Habs keep their two-goal lead intact as they went on a power play of their own.
Erik Gustafsson, who was more than serviceable to end the Toronto series, put forth one of the most disastrous power-play shifts from the team all year. First misfiring a puck to no one in the far corner, then creating a breakaway for Adam Lowry the other way, on said breakaway his effort was less than optimal as Lowry buried the short-handed goal.
Then, it was the Nick Suzuki show, and Hellebuyck was the unfortunate recipient of a highlight-reel goal from the Habs’ centre. Edmundson fired a perfect stretch pass to kick off a two-on-one with Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli. Suzuki opted to hold the puck, and dangled around Hellebuyck before neatly tucking it behind his pads for the third Habs goal in the period.
Montreal looked as though they had added a fourth, but Paul Byron’s goal was wiped out due to Kotkaniemi being called for goalie interference. A massive blocker save from Carey Price and then a near miss on a short-handed rush by Evans allowed the Habs to kill off most of the penalty as the first period ended.
The Habs had to be on their toes as the Jets came out flying to start the second period, and with a few seconds of power play time left they turned that into an extended stay in the Canadiens’ zone. Price stood tall as the Habs slowly worked themselves back into the game, again with Edmundson helping to lead the breakout.
Montreal didn’t get much help from the officiating in the second period either as an extremely dubious penalty for roughing on Kotkaniemi put the Canadiens back on the penalty kill. For the third time, the Habs fended off the Jets’ attack to keep their two-goal lead intact.
Even with the Jets pushing hard, Montreal got some strong shifts from Josh Anderson and also the fourth line as Perry crawled deep under the skin of Winnipeg’s top forwards as the period wore on. A late push by the Jets couldn’t yield a goal, and only resulted in Perry bothering Scheifele even more as the intermission horn sounded.
Once more the Jets came out strong in the third period, forcing Price to come up big, including a massive glove save on Kyle Connor who was all alone in the slot. The Winnipeg pressure eventually found a second goal as Pierre-Luc Dubois kicked a pass across the slot to Derek Forbort, and the defenceman fooled Price with his shot to cut the lead back down to one goal again.
The Jets gave that goal right back to Montreal as Josh Morrissey launched the puck out of play, putting the Habs on their second power play of the night. While the unit with Suzuki and Cole Caufield looked good, it was improbably a Shea Weber breakaway that led to the fourth Montreal goal.
Weber was up ice, while Petry collected the puck and rifled a pass right to his fellow blue-liner, who took off uncontested. Hellebuyck denied Weber in close, but Brendan Gallagher was flying in behind the play, and jammed the loose puck home.
Scheifele then had an absolute meltdown after Ben Chiarot pulled him out of Carey Price’s crease. After he threw a punch to the grounded Chiarot, he got an extra two minutes that the Canadiens took to chance to burn off the clock.
The Jets pulled Hellebuyck, and only then did their top line show up, with Nikolaj Ehlers putting a puck right into Connor’s wheelhouse for him to snipe past a lunging Price.
Then things got extremely ugly, as Evans picked up a cleared puck, circling the Jets’ net to put it into the vacated cage. As he circled around the post and tucked it home, Scheifele threw one of the most cowardly hits I’ve ever seen, making no attempt to prevent the goal. Instead, the Jets forward launched himself upward, immediately knocking out Evans and leaving the game with a bitter taste. Scheifele was assessed a charging major and a game misconduct on the play, while Evans was attended to and taken off the ice on a stretcher.
Told that Jake Evans is at the Canadiens’ Hotel in Winnipeg. Doing fine. Alert. But shaken.— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) June 3, 2021
Montreal took the contest 5-3 thanks to Evans’s empty-net goal, with Game 2 coming on Friday night. With Evans likely out, Dominique Ducharme will again shuffle his lines, and possibly his defensive pairings as well.