The Montreal Canadiens took home the first game of the series, in a game which will, for better or worse, forever have Mark Scheifele’s hit on Jake Evans as its top moment.
Evans was replaced in last night’s lineup by Artturi Lehkonen, who drew in for the first time since Game 3 against Toronto. No additional changes were made by Ducharme.
The Winnipeg Jets, however, started Friday’s game missing not only Scheifele but also Paul Stastny and Dylan DeMelo. Firstly, this meant pressure on Pierre-Luc Dubois to carry the load up the middle, and secondly that former Canadiens defenceman Jordie Benn took a place on the blue line.
With the win on Wednesday, Dominique Ducharme’s men handed the Jets their first loss of this Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Montreal wished to continue on that trail.
An even first period was a good start for the home side. Montreal had to bite and claw for the first few minutes before they found their tempo and were able to push forward. There really is not that much to say about the first period. Carey Price looked sharp when tested, but so did Connor Hellebuyck at the other end.
The middle period began with a Winnipeg power play after Paul Byron’s stick got stuck in Adam Lowry’s face. Lowry was arguing his case for a double minor, but couldn’t will enough blood to the surface. The Jets did get set in Montreal’s zone during their man advantage, but the Habs’ penalty kill continued to shut down the right areas of the ice.
Suddenly, a Kyle Connor shot ricocheted oddly off the wall, giving Tyler Toffoli an opportunity to not only clear it but to skate out with the puck accompanied by Lehkonen for a short-handed chance. When Josh Morrissey let his body hit the floor — or in this case, the ice — to help his goaltender cover, Toffoli withheld the shot just long enough to create confusion. The subsequent wristshot went straight into the top corner and Montreal had struck first. This was the Canadiens’ 11th short-handed goal of the season, and second of the playoffs.
Through two periods, this continued to be a low-event, sluggish contest. Morrissey briefly went to the locker room to get checked after a hit from Lehkonen. Price had saved 16 shots without having to break a sweat.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi could, and perhaps should, have doubled the Canadiens’ lead at the beginning of the third. A takeaway in the offensive zone gave him open road toward Hellebuyck, but the shot went off the goalie’s pad and out.
Winnipeg created more pressure against the Montreal net in the final period. They were aided by an early power play following a tripping minor on Shea Weber. Even if the Canadiens’ penalty kill remained flawless, the Jets seemed to suddenly realize that they needed to score to at least get something to show for their home-ice advantage. Price however, remained cool as a cucumber in net and did not budge one bit. In front of him, Montreal’s defence blocked a considerable amount of shots to keep the slate clean long into the third.
Paul Byron had a similar opportunity as Kotkaniemi with seven minutes left to play. After a breakaway, he came in on a two-on-one with Josh Anderson as the passing option. Byron attempted to trick Hellebuyck into going for the pass, but the reigning Vezina Trophy-winner saw right through it and saved Byron’s disguised shot with his left pad.
With two minutes left to play, Maurice rolled the dice on a six-on-five to try to even the score. This resulted in Kyle Connor having his first shot on goal of the evening. It also resulted in the Canadiens getting a breakaway where the normally so sharp Toffoli hit the iron and the Danault rebound was saved by a diving effort from Neal Pionk.
Since Pionk’s save made the puck shoot on up over the glass, there was reason to feel good about things ahead of the following faceoff. A faceoff in the offensive zone with an open net with 22 seconds to go. The Jets couldn’t muster up a chance in that time, could they?
Well, of course they could. With two seconds left on the Swiss watch, Connor was left all alone for a snipe from the left. Thankfully, Price has great reflexes and used whatever limb he could spare to keep the net clean. Thus, he saved his 30th shot of the game with his helmet. Montreal’s talismanic goaltender got the eighth shutout of his playoff career, while Toffoli’s short-handed goal ended up as the decider.
Montreal returns home to the Bell Centre with two victories against their Manitoban rivals and are now up to five straight playoff wins. Let us hope for continued success Sunday night, with 2,500 spectators cheering in the stands.