The Montreal Canadiens returned home to the Bell Centre and its 2,500 fans in a much different mood than their last trip to the friendly confines. In Game 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, their backs were against the wall before they scored an overtime goal to stave off elimination once more, and we all know the rest.
On Sunday, they took to the ice having won both games in Winnipeg, a 5-3 romp in Game 1, and a defensive masterclass in a 1-0 Game 2 victory. As expected, Dominique Ducharme made no lineup changes to his side that had won five straight games. As for the Jets, Paul Stastny finally rejoined the lineup, albeit on the wing, and noticeably not at 100% as they looked to avoid a crushing 3-0 series deficit.
Montreal came out flying like they had in Game 1, with Cole Caufield continuing his best impression of an MG-42 encampment, relentlessly firing pucks on Connor Hellebuyck.
Despite the young guy kicking the game off, it was the Grumpy Old Men who got the Habs on the board first once more. A puck in deep fell to Eric Staal, who fired a shot across the front of the crease, and it ended up on the stick of Corey Perry. The crafty winger circled the net, and as he drove to the front his shot ramped off a stick, past Hellebuyck, and the Canadiens had an early one-goal lead.
Then, some heavy pressure from Phillip Danault drew a penalty, giving the Canadiens the game’s first power play. On the positive side, they didn’t allow any short-handed rushes and Shea Weber was hammering pucks with pinpoint accuracy on net, but the man advantage yielded no goal.
Carey Price was next to steal the spotlight, with a casual glove save on a blast from the blue line, and then an impressive sliding save to shut down Andrew Copp. The Jets centre found a soft bit of ice as Jeff Petry was caught on a pinch, and Caufield had drifted off his assignment a bit. Nikolaj Ehlers fed him a perfect pass, but the Canadiens goalie was all over the shot to deny Copp a goal.
It was all Habs for the remainder of the period as the Jets struggled to get any sort of momentum going, and their best chance to tie it up came with five seconds left. A great pass set up Kyle Connor, but Price again swallowed up the puck, not leaving a rebound for Blake Wheeler, and the Habs went into the first intermission leading by a goal.
The best chances of the second period again fell to the stick of Caufield, first darting in on a loose puck and firing from close range. He followed that up with a dangle around Derek Forbort, then rifled a shot labelled for the top corner, but it was Hellebuyck’s glove that denied him his first playoff goal.
The Jets did find some form of a counter push, and it all culminated in Wheeler getting a clean look at Price before ringing his shot off the crossbar and out of play. Despite his protests that it went in, it clearly had not, and the faceoff happened to the left of Price.
That crossbar ended up having a bigger impact than Wheeler likely imagined, as the Canadiens stormed back down the ice to bury their second goal of the night. The top line pushed hard on Hellebuyck’s net, and with the Jets’ defence caught in the spin cycle it was Artturi Lehkonen hammering away until he fired it by Hellebuyck.
A miscommunication led to Montreal taking a too many men on the ice penalty, but even that couldn’t slow down the Habs’ attack. Joel Armia poked the puck away from a Jets forward, slowly working his way down the ice on a two-on-one rush. Armia opted to keep, toe-dragging around Josh Morrissey and firing home his third goal of the post-season to put the Habs comfortably ahead by three.
The Jets did finally get on the board, albeit due to a missed call from the officials just beforehand. Nikolaj Ehlers caught Paul Byron up high with his stick as he tried to go around the Habs forward, causing Byron to bleed fairly heavily. As Byron was tended to, the Jets passed the puck around quickly, with Adam Lowry pulling the trigger to finally beat Price for the first time in nearly 100 minutes.
Montreal still held the two-goal advantage as the two teams headed into the second intermission.
The third period started with some bad new for the Habs, as Jeff Petry was ruled out for the rest of the game with an undisclosed upper-body injury sustained in the second period. That meant more time for Brett Kulak and Erik Gustafsson, but it was very clear that the Jets frustrations were boiling over as they failed to solve Price.
So naturally, the Canadiens came back down the ice after a Stastny penalty, and doing their best Harlem Globetrotters impersonation dunked on the Jets for a fourth goal. A puck was thrown in deep, and Tyler Toffoli shuffled it along to Caufield who was operating around the goal line. Caufield had his head up the whole way, threading a perfect pass to the front of the crease for Nick Suzuki to poke the puck by Hellebuyck to all but put the game away.
From that point the Jets’ composure wasn’t there at all, as they took frustration penalties after the whistle, and got sucked into hugging matches after the puck was frozen. Winnipeg had no choice but to pull the goalie to try to generate some sort of insane comeback. Instead what they got was Armia notching his third point of the night when he buried the empty-net goal (while short-handed) to make it 5-1 for Montreal.
There’s no time to let the tempers settle, as Game 4 takes place tonight at 8:00 PM in Montreal. The Canadiens may be forced to shuffle their lineup a bit as Jeff Petry’s status is still uncertain after he left the game on Sunday evening.