Still Talkin’ Habs: Habs overcome adversity to snatch Game 3 from Vegas 3-2 in OT, take 2-1 series lead

There is a touch of destiny that is growing around your Montreal Canadiens.

Carey Price stole the show in regulation, Marc Andre Fleury gifted them a path to overtime and the Habs dominated the fourth period as Josh Anderson’s second of the game gave his team a 3-2 win and a 2-1 series lead.

The Canadiens had to overcome so much adversity both before and during Game 3 that you have to wonder if there will be any left over for the remainder of the semifinals.

It started just over five hours until puck drop when news broke that interim head coach Dominique Ducharme had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be unavailable for the game and possible the foreseeable future.

Going out on a limb here, it’s safe to assume that the Habs are the first team in NHL history to have an assistant coach fill in for a head coach in back-to-back playoffs.

Whether it was the strangeness of the coaching situation or just a Golden Knights team determined not to be outplayed in the opening period, the Canadiens were owned in the first.

The Habs didn’t even muster a single shot on goal until 12:27 into the game. But thanks to their goaltender the team went into the first intermission unscathed from their worst opening 20 minutes of the series so far.

It was too early to tell how the team would respond in the second before they were down 1-0. Eric Staal’s disgusted reaction summed up the feelings of Habs nation after his attempted pass to the outlet in the middle of the ice went right to Nicholas Roy to give the visitors the lead.

For a team that has counted on the first goal so often these playoffs to set the rest of their game up for success, it could have been a gut punch after surviving the opening flurry.

Just 38 seconds later, the Wisconsin whiz kid ensured his team stayed in the fight.

Cole Caufield showed off his lightning quick hands on the breakaway as he seemingly settled the puck and let it go with one fluid motion as it nestled in just under Fleury’s crossbar to give him his first home playoff goal and his team a 1-1 tie.

Who is to say what would have happened the rest of the period had Caufield not responded so quickly after Vegas took the lead, but considering how the Habs continued to get cratered for the remainder of the middle period, the goal was crucial in not letting momentum swing completely in Vegas’ favour.

After being stellar for 40 minutes, the shock of the game was Price allowing a 35-foot Alex Pietrangelo wrist shot to beat him stick side very early in the third period. The goal could have been a back-breaker not just for the Canadiens but for Price, who was the reason his team were even in the game anyways.

What did he do?

Only pull off one of his best saves of the playoffs later on Alex Tuch, a sprawling left-pad save where he seemed to stretch every sinew and ligament in his body to push off and stop the big forwards cross-crease chance. That save changed the complexion of the game and from then on, the Habs put together their big push for an equalizer.

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price makes a save off Vegas Golden Knights' Alex Tuch during third period of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal Friday, June 18, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson 

What’s the old adage about you have to be lucky to be good?

Well, Josh Anderson had his best game of the series. It was certainly his most notable. The man who hadn’t scored since the first game of the playoffs was certainly due, but no one could have expected Fleury to pull the biggest blunder of his pro-career with just under two minutes left in the game, misplaying the puck and turning it over to Anderson for him to backhand into a yawning cage.

Considering the timing and the moment, it might be an even bigger mistake than his infamous shot off of Braydon Coburn and into the net to lose World Junior gold to the USA in 2004.

It’s that pinch of luck that has us thinking about destiny.

Montreal Canadiens' Jesperi Kotkaniemi, left, and Joel Armia celebrate a goal by teammate Josh Anderson past Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during third period of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal Friday, June 18, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson 

The Canadiens must have been thinking along those lines because they played like a different team in overtime.

There was an energy and hunger offensively that had been lacking in regulation. And they were rewarded off the long change by Vegas as Anderson knocked down an elevated Jesperi Kotkaniemi backhand pass at the blueline, Paul Byron scooped it up and faked the shot to freeze Fleury before cooly laying it off to Anderson to put away his second of the game and send 3,500 fans in the Bell Center into delirium.

Montreal Canadiens fans celebrate their team's overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal outside of the Bell Centre in Montreal on Friday, June 18, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe

It’s games like last night that can convert even the most stubborn non-believer. The Canadiens played their worst game of the playoffs since Game 5 against Toronto. They won both. The Habs now have an undeserved 2-1 series lead and the universe on their side. They are two wins away from a trip to the Stanley Cup final. Do you believe?

Player Ratings

Goaltender

Carey Price – 9/10

The man. The myth. The legend. That goal by Pietrangelo cannot go in. But he had stopped numerous odd-man rushes up to that point against a Vegas team that were clearly the better of the two teams on the ice. If the Canadiens go on to win this series, that incredible pad save on Tuch might go down as the save of the playoffs. Yes, saves on Marner, Spezza, Stone etc. have all been spectacular, but in terms of timing, it was his best to date. Changed the narrative of the game. Stole the game for his team.

Defenseman

Shea Weber – 7/10

Solid. Loathe to criticize his puck movement in the first two periods because it felt like the reason the Habs couldn’t get out of their zone was the forwards inability to get pucks off the boards and away from Vegas defencemen. They were doing a great job pinching down low, but his passing has been better. Terrific on the penalty kill, struggled on the power play. Wasn’t as much of a standout player as he was in Game 2 but still gave everything to the cause.

Ben Chiarot – 8/10

He was the Habs best defenseman in regulation. Just seemed to get his body in the way of several potential shots or scoring chances. Led the team with 5:27 of ice time shorthanded which is where he really shined. Was great at clearing the front of the net of bodies and pucks. Won some crucial one-on-one battles to get the puck out of his end. Really impressive stuff. Like Weber his passing could have been better but all-in-all he did enough to keep his team in the game.

Jeff Petry – 7/10

Led the team in blocks with five. His passing was repeatedly wayward, highlighted by his team-high five giveaways last night. Did a better job skating the puck out of his own end than moving it. Didn’t really put a foot wrong defensively. Although he had to survive some nervy moments he kept Vegas to the outside for the most part in his zone. His play on Smith at his blueline created the turnover that led to Anderson’s game-winner in overtime. Still looking scary.

Joel Edmundson – 8/10

Led the blueline with five hits and didn’t back down from anyone either in front of the net or trying to send a message after the whistle. Probably the Canadiens best passing defenceman on the night. A rare minus 2 performance from him although you’d have to be insane to blame either one of Vegas’ goals on him. Like Chiarot he defended the inside extremely well and cleared the are directly in front of Price effectively. Even surprised Fleury with a hot shot or two.

Jon Merrill – 6/10

Clearly limited by whatever injury is plaguing him when it comes to moving the puck. He just tries to push it to someone open rather than make a pass to a teammate. Pushed the boundaries of the playing without a helmet rule in the first. Just had to let the mullet breathe I guess. Stood out on the penalty kill, clearing the mass of humanity in front of the Canadiens net. Did his job. Just wish he could do a bit more.

Erik Gustafsson – 5/10

That was the most nervous we’ve seen him in quite some time. Skittish is how I’d describe him when trying to cope with Vegas’ forecheck at times. Played just over seven minutes which speaks to how little Richardson trusted him last night. Didn’t look particularly confident on the power play either. A tough one for him.

Forwards

Phillip Danault – 7/10

It’s playoff time so he’s going to lead you in ice-time when it comes to your forwards. As always offered very little offensively which is kind of maddening considering he is getting the most ice-time. But his desperation defensively was a sight to behold. Diving and lunging to disrupt or tip pucks away from their desired target. Terrific stick on the penalty kill. 78 per cent on draws is fantastic.

Brendan Gallagher – 5/10

Really disappointing night from him. It felt like his stick was where the offense went to die. Couldn’t handle or make passes. Struggled just to keep control of the puck. Slowed the play down when his linemates were going, sped up when he was all alone. An off night for him. To be frank there have been far too many off-nights for him these playoffs. As always went to the net hard,  but he can be so much better.

Artturi Lehkonen – 7/10

Had himself a momentum changing shift on the penalty kill in the second period. Dogged, determined, relentless. Tuch must have been thinking who the heck is this guy from Europe's northern regions as he beat him to multiple pucks in Vegas’ end. For a team that prides itself on pointing out the heart and soul guys he doesn’t get anywhere near the accolades he deserves for his consistent effort night after night. Tattooed by McNabb at the blueline but it didn’t bother him. He’s a machine.

Nick Suzuki – 8/10

Felt like getting pancaked by McNabb in the neutral zone accomplished only one thing: It woke him up. From then on a switch seemed to go off in his head and he was everywhere. Held on to the puck magnificently, tried a few of those extremely creative moves one-on-one that nearly came off. His line was the only one that consistently threatened in the Vegas zone. Four shots on goal to lead the forwards and four blocks, including a massive one in the slot in the third period. Great block and pass to Caufield for his goal. Gamer.

Tyler Toffoli – 6/10

Did a lot of the grunt work for Suzuki and Caufield along the boards. Didn’t really get any good looks either at even strength or on the powerplay. But he competed hard and put a shift in for his team. Looked off the pace for large portions of the game. The eight-game point streak sadly came to an end last night. Surely doesn’t care.

Cole Caufield – 7/10

What a release. To settle down that puck on the breakaway and then fire it over Fleury seemingly in one fluid motion was special. His skating stood out compared to nearly everyone else on the team. Only had two shots on goal the rest of the way and didn’t do much of anything on the powerplay, but he was consistently an outlet to get out of the zone and wasn’t fazed by the physicality of the Vegas defencemen pinching down around him.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 6/10

Won 60 per cent of his draws and was physically engaged in one-on-one battles. Just wish he could’ve won more of them. Seemed to have one of those games where he was falling over a lot. He and his linemates really stood out in overtime but in regulation they couldn’t sustain any kind of offensive zone time. Not great on the powerplay but no one was on that unit. No shots on goal is a worry. His second hooking penalty was extremely foolish. First one wasn’t even a penalty. Recognized that Anderson was all alone and threw him an extremely difficult pass that the big forward fortunately settled for the game-winner.

Paul Byron – 7/10

Led the team with nine hits. NINE!!! No shots on goal speaks more to his line not creating any zone time and not necessarily his game specifically. Continued to be really good on the penalty kill. Like Lehkonen plays hard everywhere on the ice. Improved significantly in overtime. The presence of mind to freeze Fleury with the fake shot and then pass it off to Anderson for the winner was the kind of thing love songs are written about. What a play in a big moment.

Josh Anderson – 8/10

He certainly deserved a goal. Just didn’t know Fleury felt the same way. Before that he was the most noticeable Hab in a first period where they were thoroughly outplayed. Tied for the lead among forwards with four shots on goal. If he develops a move that isn’t drive to the outside and cut to the net he could be unstoppable. Would still like to see he and his linemates control the play more in the offensive zone. Five bone-jarring hits. Not suited for the powerplay. Terrific hand-eye to knock down the Kotkaniemi pass at the blueline and then finish it off a great play by Byron. You score the goals, you get the rating.

Eric Staal – 5/10

Yes, the turnover to Roy for his goal was egregious. Couldn’t help but feel bad for him after seeing his reaction to that play. But to his credit just kept playing the same game afterwards. Couldn’t seem to get there on the forecheck at times, especially compared to his linemates (who aren’t the fleetest of foot). 31 percent in the dot and no shots on goal isn’t goo enough. But did his job cycling the puck on the offensive zone.

Corey Perry – 6/10

That photo of him with a gash across his face cheering on his teammates as they left the ice will live long in the memory of Habs fans. An almost game from him. Had a couple of potentially glorious chances just fall apart at the last second, most notably a net front drive where he brought the puck to his backhand and then inexplicably lost his footing at the most crucial moment in front of Fleury. Pulled off some sneaky plays in tight that nearly came off for him or his teammates. Cycled and protected the puck well.

Joel Armia – 7/10

He was a force physically, along the boards in the offensive zone and on the penalty kill. Stick lifter extraordinaire. His drive to the outside around Stone and move back inside would have been one of the goals of the playoffs had it come off. Stick lifter extraordinaire. Someone must have said something mean to him because he played angry. Fantastic on the PK. Five hits to boot. A solid performance.

Coach

Luke Richardson – 7/10

If you’d have told me that I’d be writing about Richardson as head coach in the Stanley Cup semifinals, I’d have said 'stop it you’re drunk.' Didn’t really see much difference from he and Ducharme which is natural. Don’t think you can blame the bad start on him but more on the weirdness in the build-up to the game for the team. One thing that did stand out was he went very veteran heavy when it came to his forwards closing out a period. Got the job done.

Montreal Canadiens replacement coach Luke Richardson is seen behind the team bench as they face the Vegas Golden Knights during first period of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal Friday, June 18, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

P.S

Didn’t want to bring it up but the standard of officiating last night was putrid. It could be most aptly highlighted by two plays. Armia gets a boarding penalty after not attempting to go through the numbers but instead shove the shoulder of Whitecloud. McNabb goes through the back of Lehkonen just inside the blueline. No call. And then to miss the high stick on Perry in overtime that should have easily been four minutes. There were a million missed calls in between those incidents on both teams. Set a standard in the game and stick to it. If not, no one knows what the heck you’re doing out there. Embarrassing for the league to have that standard of officiating at this time of year.