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(2) VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS VERSUS (4) MONTREAL CANADIENS
Vegas defeated the Colorado Avalanche in six games in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Montreal eliminated the Winnipeg Jets in a four-game sweep. It sets up an intriguing series between a still relatively young Golden Knights franchise that has enjoyed plenty of success since entering the league and the league’s oldest, more storied organizations in the Canadiens.
The Golden Knights lost the first two games of the best-of-seven series against Colorado, but rallied to win the final four matches to send the Avalanche into off-season mode. Vegas got off to a rocky start with a 7-1 blowout loss in Game 1 and came up short in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 2 despite carrying the play. However, the Golden Knights didn’t get discouraged and continued to control the play, which eventually put Colorado on their heels. Vegas held the high-scoring, talented Avalanche to two goals or fewer in each of the next three contests. The Golden Knights punched their ticket to the Semifinals in Game 6 with a 6-3 victory on home ice.
Montreal was the first team to advance to the Stanley Cup Semifinals after being involved in the last series to get underway in the opening round of the postseason. The Canadiens played 11 games over 19 days, including two back-to-back situations, in order to catch up to the rest of the field. Montreal held the Jets to just three goals in the final three games of the best-of-seven series and won Game 4 in overtime to end Winnipeg’s playoff run. The Canadiens have a seven-game win streak going into the third round.
The matchup between the pipes is going to be one of the headline stories of the series. Marc-Andre Fleury just emerged victorious in a battle of 2021 Vezina Trophy finalists against Philipp Grubauer, while Carey Price came out on top in a series versus 2020 Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck. Fleury has posted a 1.91 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in the postseason. Price has a 1.97 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. Fleury has been consistent throughout the year, while Price has found another gear in the playoffs.
The Canadiens have leaned heavily on the top shutdown pairing of Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot, with both defenders averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per match. Jeff Petry, who is currently dealing with an injury, is close behind at 23:52 of time on ice per game played and Joel Edmundson has seen 22:18 of ice time per contest. Montreal only got two assists from the defense corps in Round 1, but the group was much more active offensively in the second round with one goal and 10 helpers.
The Golden Knights have swapped some blueliners in and out of the lineup during the postseason, but Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore have been constants and they have garnered most of the ice time. Pietrangelo has averaged 24:00 of ice time per match, while Theodore has logged 22:58 of time on ice per game played. Pietrangelo has amassed eight points, while Theodore has six helpers. Nick Holden has been a surprise contributor with six points in 10 appearances. Alec Martinez has been averaging 21:15 of ice time per match despite speculation that he may be playing through something.
Vegas has done some tinkering up front as well, mostly due to injuries, but the team has benefited from contributions from all four lines. The team has 16 skaters with at least one goal and 20 have posted at least one point. William Karlsson has led the way offensively with four goals and 11 points in 13 games. Max Pacioretty has been all over the scoresheet since he returned from an undisclosed injury. He has four goals and eight points in seven appearances. Mark Stone (five goals, three assists) and Jonathan Marchessault, who leads the team with six goals, have also posted eight points apiece. Alex Tuch (four goals, three assists), Mattias Janmark (three goals, four assists) and Reilly Smith (two goals, five assists) have seven points each.
Montreal has had a balanced scoring attack as well in the postseason. The club has 12 players with at least one goal and 19 have registered at least one point. Tyler Toffoli ranks at the top with four goals and 10 points. Nick Suzuki (four goals, four assists) is close behind with eight points, while Joel Armia (four goals, three assists) and Eric Staal (one goal, six assists) have seven points apiece. Corey Perry has notched three goals and three helpers and Cole Caufield has picked up four assists in nine outings.
There are plenty of similarities between the two teams. They both play stingy defensively, feature strong goaltending and have balanced scoring. However, Vegas has the size to wear down the opposition and the talent to finish. Montreal has defeated teams with more game breakers and depth than them before, but the Golden Knights bring a different set of challenges as a step up in competition. Vegas defeated a Colorado team that many considered to be the Stanley Cup favorite and won four straight times to do so. They would have been a heavy favorite regardless in this matchup, but if they play like that again then they will be a handful for the Canadiens. The Golden Knights have a team that can out-chance, out-skate and out-hit the opposition on a gamely basis. Montreal can still found ways to win despite that, as they have done in the past, and Price will probably need to be a big factor for them to pull off another upset.
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Players to Watch
Brendan Gallagher - Gallagher has heated up with two goals and two assists in his last five playoff outings. He made his way onto the scoresheet in three of four games in the second round against Winnipeg. Gallagher had one goal and two helpers in that span. He will have to be a key player for the Canadiens in the series.
Nick Suzuki - Suzuki and Toffoli have been Montreal’s most consistent offensive producers in the postseason. Suzuki has been held off the scoresheet once in the past seven games, while generating three goals and four helpers during that stretch. He will be an intriguing player to watch in the series because he will play against the team that drafted him 13th overall in 2017. Suzuki has faced the Golden Knights two times before in the regular season, but the stakes are much higher now.
Max Pacioretty - Pacioretty didn’t make his debut in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs until Game 7 of the first round against Minnesota. He had been out since May 1 because of an undisclosed injury, but he hasn’t missed a beat since his return. Pacioretty has four goals and four assists over a seven-game point streak. Playing against his former team will make for an interesting subplot in this series.
Jonathan Marchessault - Marchessault racked up five goals and two assists in six games during the second round against Colorado. The Quebec native only had one points, which was a goal, in seven outings versus the Wild in Round 1. Vegas’ second line turned up the heat last round and if they manage to do that again then Montreal will have a hard time keeping up offensively.
Additional Series Notes
This marks Vegas’ third appearance in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in four seasons.
This is the first time Montreal has made it past the second round since 2014.
Montreal has scored six times on 32 power-play opportunities for a success rate of 18.8%. Vegas has four goals on 28 chances with the man advantage for a 14.3 power play percentage.
The Canadiens have a league-best 90.3 penalty kill percentage in the postseason. They have allowed just three power-play goals against, while being down a man 31 times. Additionally, Montreal has scored four times shorthanded, which leads the playoffs.
The Golden Knights have surrendered eight power-play goals, while being shorthanded on 28 occasions for a 71.4 penalty kill percentage.
Montreal is tied for first in the postseason in goals scored in the first period with 10. That could be important for the Canadiens, as the Golden Knights have a mark of 17-3 in playoff games when leading after the first period.
Still, Vegas has been productive after the first frame this postseason, while ranking second in second period goals (18) and tying for second in third period markers with 14.
Montreal has the best goals against per game played (2.18) of the remaining playoff teams and the worst goals for per game played (2.55).
The Golden Knights lead the postseason in hits (513), blocked shots (249) and takeaways (131).
The Canadiens have the most wins in one-goal games, with five, in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Vegas ranks first in the postseason with 406 faceoff wins and a 54.9 faceoff winning percentage.
Tomas Nosek (undisclosed) is getting close to being available to return. He has missed 11 games since he was injured in Game 2 of the first round versus Minnesota.
Peyton Krebs (fractured jaw) has been a full participant with the taxi squad and could be an option, but he may not get a chance to play in the postseason.
Jeff Petry (upper body) has been making progress from his suspected hand injury. If he isn’t available to return for Game 1 then he could be ready at some early in the series. Petry is a key loss if he misses extended time.
Jonathan Drouin (personal) is still away from the team on an indefinite leave of absence.