MONTREAL — Leave it to some guy named Roy to be the overtime hero in Montreal.
Yes, it was Nicolas, not Patrick, delivering a goal that saved the Vegas Golden Knights from a 3-1 series deficit when he scored 1:18 into the extra period of a game his team had no business being in. It was a game they’d have lost decisively if not for surprise starter Robin Lehner.
That’s what the Montreal Canadiens have to keep in perspective as they head back to Las Vegas tied 2-2 with the Golden Knights in this Stanley Cup semifinal. They played masterfully, but just ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard — much like Vegas did in Game 3.
That’s hockey. That’s the playoffs. You move on and get ready for the game that’s ahead.
"We played a pretty good game,” said Paul Byron, who scored Montreal’s only goal on a breakaway with 1:05 remaining in the second period and was even-keeling it in his post-game comments. “Could have went either way. They get the goal in overtime. That's the way it is. It's 2-2. We go back to Vegas focusing on the next game, how to get better and you have a big push for the next one."
Before then, the Canadiens will roll the video clips and see they did just about everything right to take a stranglehold in this series. They’ll see the 19 blocks they came up with, 40 hits they threw to win most the battles and the strong stick work they employed to keep the Golden Knights away from Carey Price.
They’ll look at the numbers and see they held one of the deepest and most potent offensive teams in the NHL to zero high-danger chances through regulation and say to themselves that if they do half as well moving forward, the outcome they desire will be there for them.
That the Canadiens seem to already know that going into the layover process is the first key step.
“I just popped my head in quick when the guys came in,” said Canadiens stand-in coach Luke Richardson. “It's a little bit of deflation. You put that much effort in, play a solid game, but (Corey Perry and Shea Weber) told the guys, ‘It’s back to business. It's part of the job and we're playing well.’
“You can always make some alterations, and we'll look at it and correct a few things or add a few things and be ready for that next game. We knew it was going to probably be a long series (with) the way we are playing. And obviously they're a good team, so we were expecting that. We're going to be ready to push next game."
It’ll be tough without coach Dominique Ducharme, who remains in quarantine after missing Games 3 and 4 of this series with COVID-19, but the Canadiens have faced down challenges and come out on the other side of them all playoffs.
They’ll have to solve Lehner, who rewarded Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer’s bold decision to start him after Marc-Andre Fleury gave away a goal in Game 3 and was beat three times for a loss his team didn’t quite deserve.
“He was excellent,” DeBoer said of Lehner, who made 27 saves, including remarkable ones on Eric Staal, Joel Armia and Cole Caufield. “You know what, listen, he might have the toughest job in hockey playing behind a legend in Flower. How he's handled that, I think has earned the respect of everybody in our dressing room. And that's not something people see, but it's genuine. He's a good man and a good teammate. He played a helluva game for us tonight.”
It was only Lehner’s second game of the playoffs, with his first one a 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of Round 2. His last win had come on May 7, and he was thrown into a pressure-packed situation without a parachute.
It was one the Swede handled perfectly — especially in the first period, when the Golden Knights were out-shot 11-4 and out-chanced handily.
Lehner was beat on a perfect shot by Byron near the end of the second, and then he shut the door and allowed his teammates to take advantage of their best opportunities.
Brayden McNabb got lost in coverage and scored the seventh goal the Vegas defence has come up with in this series to make it 1-1 with just over nine minutes remaining in the third period. And Roy’s overtime winner was scored on his own rebound — shots from seven and eight feet away from the net, respectively, which was the closest Vegas got to Price in the game.
It was another reminder of how well the Canadiens actually played in this one and how tough a result it was to swallow — after they put a blanket on the Golden Knights all night and found a way to ignore another 60-plus minutes of embarrassing officiating.
"I think the other night, we started to get a little bent out of shape and losing our composure and our focus, but we battled through it, and I thought we did better as the game went along,” Richardson said of the way the Canadiens handled that part Sunday versus Friday. “We addressed that before the game today that we control what we control. We just have to trust that they do the right things. I thought tonight we did a great job."
It's with that same composure the Canadiens must handle the task in front of them. They’ll be back in hostile territory in Game 5, with the crowd at T-Mobile Arena all over them, but the template is there for them to apply.
“We’re playing tight defence,” said Richardson. “We’re really playing with good structure. Guys are paying the price and blocking shots and taking hits to make plays to get pucks advancing forward for us, and it’s huge and it becomes contagious for us. When you see a guy do it, the bench gets up and cheers (and) the next guy’s going out to do that. So I think what we want to try to do is translate all that great defence if we can and catch the other team and try to create some offence out of it. That’s going to be the next step to do to get us the win in Game 5.”
All advanced stats courtesy Natural Stattrick.