2021 North Division Final Game 2
MTL leads 1-0
How to watch
Start time: 7:30 PM EDT / 4:30 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the U.S.: USA
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
With the Winnipeg Jets playing for the first time in nine days and Montreal fresh off a comeback series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was understandable that the first few shifts on Wednesday was measured for both teams feeling their way into a new matchup. But it didn’t take the Canadiens players long to realize that they had much more time and space to work with than they had versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they began to take advantage of it.
It started when Jesperi Kotkaniemi was left open at the side of the net for a tap-in, then Eric Staal got in on the action when Corey Perry drew the attention of four defenders — something the disciplined Leafs rarely fell for — to slide a puck across to him. At the end of the first period, Montreal had a 3-1 lead, with the one blemish being a lack of execution on the power play. The Canadiens surrendered the same amount of goals as they scored over the next two periods to earn a 5-3 win.
The last of those goals should have been the most meaningless, but it ended up being the most significant of the game, and perhaps of the series. Jake Evans made a great use of his speed to not only beat out an icing call with the Jets’ net empty, but wrap it around and into the net before any opponent could reach him. Landing a big hit was all Mark Scheifele had on his mind after realizing the sealing goal was about to be scored, and he connected with Evans at full speed, knocking him out, and now the rookie forward is out with a concussion.
On Thursday night, we learned that Scheifele would miss the next four games for such a dangerous hit, and that means the Jets, already down 1-0 in the series, missing Paul Stastny when Game 1 began, and then losing top-pairing defenceman Dylan DeMelo just minutes in, will now be without their top-line centre.
Tale of the Tape
|48.8% (9th)||Corsi-for pct.||44.6% (13th)|
|2.38 (12th)||Goals per game||3.40 (4th)|
|2.63 (8th)||Goals against per game||2.60 (7th)|
|17.4% (12th)||PP%||23.1% (7th)|
|88.5% (1st)||PK%||80.0% (6th)|
The series seemed quite even going in, certainly more than the first two series in the North Division had appeared, even though the underdogs ended up the winners from the opening round. Scheifele taking himself out of a substantial portion of the series swings the odds in Montreal’s favour.
It’s still not going to be easy. There are plenty of quality offensive players remaining in Winnipeg’s lineup; they did score three goals with no contributions from Scheifele, and their power play will remain a threat all series long. Nikolaj Ehlers is a top offensive threat and will prove difficult to contain. After his effort to protect a prone Evans at the end of the last game, not many would be upset if he plays the William Nylander role in this series with a fair amount of personal production in a losing cause.
At the same time, with the nature of Scheifele’s exit, the Canadiens will only be more fired up to get the series win. One of their players was taken out of commission on a predatory hit, and that’s going to turn up the temperature. It’s safe to say the start to Game 2 won’t be nearly as tentative as the first rotation of shifts in the opening game.
We know how Ben Chiarot, who played a major role in frustrating Scheifele to the point that he completely lost it at the end of the game, will respond: with more of the same physical play. Corey Perry and Eric Staal will be expected to up their physicality ever so slightly around the goal to continue the quality play they’ve been provided all series long. There should be no reason for anything more violent than that since the Departnent of Player Safety has actually defused the situation with a significant suspension, so the senseless fight to settle a score should be left out of tonight’s proceedings.
How will the younger players respond? Hopefully with more of what we’ve been seeing already, Kotkaniemi increased his playoff goal total to four. Nick Suzuki showed off some veteran patience on the third blocker-side tuck on Hellebuyck in the opening period. Cole Caufield could have had a goal or two of his own, but he was the one most interested in experimenting with the new space available to him as he tried some one-on-one moves that ultimately failed. He’s surely been instructed to just shoot the puck more, so that’s something to watch for tonight.
With Evans out, we will probably see Artturi Lehkonen come in in his place. Lehkonen was deemed healthy enough to play ahead of Game 1, but the coach didn’t want to mess with a lineup that had won three games in a row, and got rewarded for doing so with a fourth. A fifth would give the lowest seed in the post-season a massive edge in the series.