It has been quite a week for the Montreal Canadiens. Last Monday, they were finishing off their improbable series comeback over the Toronto Maple Leafs. A week after the fact they had the chance to close out their second-round series with the Winnipeg Jets in just four games. The two teams played on Sunday, with the Canadiens romping to a 5-1 victory on the back of a three-point night from Joel Armia.
There was some concern about the Canadiens’ defensive lineup after Jeff Petry left Game 3 before the third period began with an injury. Petry wasn’t in warmups, forcing Dominique Ducharme to change up his defensive pairings as both Xavier Ouellet and Alexander Romanov took to the ice. In the end, it was the rookie Romanov who was slotted into the lineup next to Erik Gustafsson.
The Jets had the game’s first push, controlling play for a few minutes before the Canadiens’ legs got moving, then all of a sudden it was Winnipeg on the back foot — for much of the rest of the game. That included the Jets being whistled for the game’s first penalty, putting a suddenly dangerous Montreal power play on the ice early in the first period.
It wasn’t long before the man advantage found the back of the net, thanks in major part to a failed clearance by Nate Thompson. The old Habs forward failed to get the puck out of the zone, forcing the Jets’ penalty kill into scramble mode as the Habs began their cycle. Nick Suzuki fed it back to the point, where Gustafsson faked his shot to shift Thompson out of his shooting lane, and then rifled the shot off the post and in for his first goal of the post-season.
Montreal then had a penalty to kill shortly after as Brett Kulak interfered with Nikolaj Ehlers as he chased down a dump-in. Unlike Winnipeg’s penalty kill, Montreal stifled every Jets opportunity, causing the frustration to mount quickly. That boiled over with Pierre-Luc Dubois shoving Tyler Toffoli into the open bench door, and being sent to the box for his troubles.
The Jets were able to escape the Canadiens’ dangerous-looking man advantage, but still surrendered another goal to end the period when the top line started its heavy forecheck. After they forced a turnover, it was a few quick passes to set up Kulak’s shot from the point. As it went toward the net, Artturi Lehkonen got under the puck with his stick, giving it just enough lift to solve Hellebuyck and double the Canadiens’ lead.
For once, the Jets actually managed to make the most of one of their few offensive pushes to start the second period. With the Jesperi Kotkaniemi line hemmed in a bit, Logan Stanley took a feed that gave him a clean look on Carey Price, and he made the most of it, wiring his shot over Price to cut the Montreal lead in half.
It was Stanley again who miraculously tied the game for the Jets, after Brendan Gallagher misfired his chance on Hellebuyck. As the play went the other way, Stanley loaded up and fired on Price, appearing to double-hit the puck and fooling the Canadiens goalie with a shot that tied the game.
Despite the odd two goals, the second period was still the Canadiens’ as they continued to pressure the Jets. The top line gave the opponent fits, and the fourth line easily cycled their way through the offensive zone. Eventually the hustle of Lehkonen and the pestering of Brendan Gallagher drew a penalty late in the period to give Montreal a chance to reclaim the lead.
The Habs didn’t convert before the end of the period, but had 51 seconds of power-play time to operate with at the start of the third.
Montreal didn’t convert on the abbreviated power play, though their top line continued to hound the Jets as they piled up scoring chance as the play returned to even strength. An errant pass from Jordie Benn nearly created a third goal for the Habs as Paul Byron picked it off, but a quick glove from Hellebuyck snapped the puck out of the air to deny the Canadiens any follow-up chances.
From there the control was all Montreal as they landed shot after shot, but the Jets goalie stubbornly refused to budge despite the rest of his team failing to show up at all through the first half of the third period. By the time it passed the 10-minute mark, the Canadiens had tripled the Jets’ shot production. Price was still sharp though, coming up with multiple saves in a row to deny Paul Stastny a goal after a no-look setup from Kyle Connor.
The Habs pushed in the final minutes, with their shifts resembling power plays instead of five-on-five play. In the dying seconds, it was a massive shot block by Mathieu Perreault that likely prevented a final flurry of scoring chances, and somehow forced the game into overtime.
It didn’t take long for the Canadiens’ secret weapon to make himself known. After a heavy shift from Kotkaniemi’s line, it was time for Cole Caufield to put another indelible stamp on his Canadiens tenure. With Nick Suzuki battling Andrew Copp in the corner, Caufield snuck in, swiped the loose puck, and fired it across the top of the crease to Tyler Toffoli. The veteran winger did what he does best, and buried it past Hellebuyck to secure the Canadiens’ sweep of the Jets.
Montreal now hasn’t trailed in a game in 437:53, a feat only topped by their 1960 counterparts, but they’ll have a massive test awaiting them in the Stanley Cup Semifinals when they face one of the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights.