For the first time all year, the Montreal Canadiens picked up a win in front of a capacity crowd—it just wasn't an audience made up primarily of Habs fans.
Wednesday night's 3-2 victory in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Vegas Golden Knights evened the series a 1-1 as the teams head to Montreal, where they'll face a much different environment.
Due to the pandemic, Canadian franchises played against only each other until this point in the year, and with minimal spectators at that. The Stanley Cup Semifinals pitted the North Division winners against the West-winning Knights, sending the Habs to Vegas where the club had an opportunity to play in front of a capacity crowd for the first since early 2020.
After snapping a five-game winning streak on Wednesday, the Knights will play in Montreal for the first time this year where the Habs are 3-2 this postseason.
Tyler Toffoli, RW, Montreal Canadiens: 1 Goal, 2 SOG, 4 Hits
Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens: 29 Saves, 2 Goals Allowed
Alex Pietrangelo, D, Vegas Golden Knights: 2 Goals, 7 SOG, 5 Hits
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Vegas Golden Knights: 20 Saves, 3 Goals Allowed
Habs Hold Off Vegas’ Second Period Surge
The Canadiens got used to playing at T-Mobile Arena real quick, it seems. After finding the back of the net just once in a 4-1 Game 1 loss, the Habs jumped all over the Knights in the first period, taking advantage of some stunning mismatches despite Vegas being afford last change.
But it wasn’t just the two-goal lead the Canadiens took into the second period that was impressive on Wednesday so much as they way they were able to protect it. With a raucous crowd egging them on, the Knights stepped up their offensive pressure in the middle frame, out-shooting the Habs 10-4 and forcing the visitors to ward off the attack.
The Habs—led by goalie Carey Price—proved more than up to the task.
In fact it was a nearly five-minute stretch early in the second period that showed just how dialed in Price was in the victory.
Beginning with 17 minutes remaining in the period, Price fought off a 2-on-0 attempt led by Max Pacioretty, with the former Canadiens captain drawing iron on despite getting the netminder to lose his net. But Price showed an ability to quickly recover as the Knights corralled the rebound, reentered the offensive zone and watched helpless as Mark Stone’s clear look was easily turned aside.
Barely two minutes later, with the Habs still chasing on defense, it was Price again coming up with a massive point blank save on defenseman Alec Martinez, who’d crept towards the crease for a back-door look only for his shot to deflect off Price’s chest.
Martinez had his hands halfway in the air to celebrate a goal before he realized he missed the opportunity to put the puck in the net. It took the Vegas crowd an extra second or two before they realized it as well.
Montreal killed off the Knights’ momentum even further with 14 minutes remaining as forward Joel Armia went to the box for tripping. Vegas could hardly get set-up in the offensive zone on the ensuing power play, let alone sustain any pressure on net.
All that work by Vegas felt even more useless as Paul Bryon put the Habs up 3-0 with 2:15 left in the frame. Alex Pietrangelo would get the goal back a minute later as the Knights finally broke through, but the damage would’ve been plenty worse had Montreal been unable to weather the first 18 minutes of the second period in Game 2.
Knights Go North
The Golden Knights had a road record of 19-9-0 this season, but they’re about to embark on a road trip like none they’ve experienced in 2020-21.
Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals will see Vegas become the first American team to cross the Canadian border this season, and it could make for a jarring adventure.
Whereas T-Mobile Arena seat 17,500 fans for Knights games, the famed Bell Centre in Montreal is only allowing in 3,500 spectators for Game 3—a 1,000-capacity jump from the last Habs game when only 2,500 fans were permitted inside.
The health and safety protocols in Canada mean the two clubs will go from playing in one of the league's loudest buildings to one of its quietest.
Just how that'll impact the Knights remains to be seen.
NHL Public Relations @PR_NHL
Alex Pietrangelo recorded his 60th career playoff point (10-50—60 in 107 GP). Since he made his playoff debut in 2012, Pietrangelo is one of just four defensemen to reach the mark (also Victor Hedman, John Carlson & Kris Letang). #StanleyCup #NHLStats: https://t.co/iXseI02bF0 https://t.co/6eUowKZlFg
What's for certain is that having no fans inside the league bubble last year played a role in Vegas' conference finals elimination. During a recent playoff victory over the Colorado Avalanche last round, Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon wondered aloud whether his team would've hung on without their fans.
“I said after that game just to our own people that that’s maybe a game we don’t win in the bubble last year in Edmonton," McCrimmon said. "Because you don’t have that extra boost that the fans give you."
Whatever boost there is in Montreal for Games 3 and 4 will be minimal at best, not to mention one-sided.
No team will have a tougher test this postseason than what awaits the Knights in Montreal. Dropping Game 2 on home ice only raises the stakes.
Game 3 heads north of the border with a Canadian team hosting a club from the United States for the first time all year. Faceoff is slated for 8 p.m. ET on USA Network live from Bell Centre on Friday, June 18.