Well … what do we have here?
That fourth-place team in the ultra-weak Canadian division that was to be swept away by the Vegas Golden Knights?
Yes, they are heading home with home advantage after winning Game 2 by a score of 3-2, proving to the hockey world that, yes, the Montreal Canadiens can play the Golden Knights.
“Those people who said we were going to sweep,” Las Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer said, “are the same people who said Colorado was going to sweep us.”
One of the most accurate jokes in hockey has always been: “A series doesn’t start until the away team wins a game.”
On Tuesday night in Las Vegas, this series was reduced to the best of five, with the Canadiens stealing the home court advantage. All of which comes as no surprise to the veteran Golden Knights coach.
“You don’t get to the Final Four without knowing this is going to be a battle,” DeBoer said after the game. “If it takes overtime and seven games, then it takes overtime and seven games. You just want to make sure you move on.
“We knew this was not going to be easy, we have great respect for their hockey team. They have beaten two very good teams to get here and have won many games, “he concluded. “We are in a better place than in the last series after two games (down 2-0 against Colorado). We will go to Montreal and look to win a game. ”
A trend that emerged in the first two contests in Sin City saw the Canadiens dominate the opening minutes of both games. In Game 1, Marc-Andre Fleury held the fort until his skaters found his legs.
In Game 2, however, it was 2-0 after 20 minutes, and the Habs’ defensive jamming game through the middle was in sight in the final 40 minutes.
“It has been a topic of conversation here for a while. Also in the last series, ”admitted defender Alex Pietrangelo, who scored the two goals for Las Vegas, the first two-goal playoff game of his distinguished career. “It is something we have to fix. Not good enough at the beginning, in the first period. It’s not good enough at first. ”
“For whatever reason, our playoff starts haven’t been good enough,” added captain Mark Stone. “They have burned us before, they burned us again tonight.”
To make matters worse, Montreal is that team where you just can’t be left behind. They are masterful at the lead, with opportunistic forwards like Paul Byron, who get kicked when the tail team gets too aggressive on offense. Byron scored the third goal when he evaded a check from Fleury, a move the Las Vegas goalkeeper wanted to withdraw immediately.
“I was sorry as soon as I did,” Fleury confirmed. “I made up my mind too soon. He cut in half early, and it was too far. I shouldn’t have done that. ”
It was that third goal that consolidated this game for Montreal, despite Pietrangelo putting his team back to less than one in a pretty head-to-head play with just over five minutes to play.
The Habs, however, are more comfortable defending an advantage. His neutral zone game eats potential comebacks like cornmeal sandwiches, his burly stick-wielding defenders clear the gap like a cop on Crescent Street.
Vegas finished with 31 shots, but there were some scoring effects. The Habs just fought back for the last 20 minutes and seemed very comfortable doing it.
“The last two periods we played pretty well,” Stone guessed. “Chasing the game is not an easy task against anyone, but these guys play a really good team game when they take the lead.
“They obstruct it quite well.”
This is the Habs game plan, just like it was for the New Jersey Devils or Dallas Stars of the ’90s: Get a head start, then take the excitement factor underground. All of those teams were fun to watch when they fell behind, when they had to rush off some offense.
But like Darryl Sutter’s Los Angeles Kings, who had Jonathan Quick in his prime, a 2-0 lead for Carey Price is money, and the Habs are happy to secure it after that.
“I’m not sure they’ll lock us up tonight,” DeBoer disagreed. “We generated enough opportunities to work our way back to that game. I don’t think it was a case where they locked us up once we were left behind. We generated good looks in the last 40 minutes. ”
They may have, but the coach of a Las Vegas team knows full well that there is no money to fall behind the Montreal Canadiens.
The odds just aren’t going to pay off.