Canadiens' heart on full display in crucial Game 2 win over Golden Knights

Carey Price stopped 29 shots and Paul Byron scored the eventual game-winner as the Canadiens beat the Golden Knights 3-2, evening their series at one game apiece.

You could see the mark of this all-important win for the Montreal Canadiens right across Brendan Gallagher’s cheekbone.

Oh yes, the man often branded for his efforts was willing to take Alex Pietrangelo’s check to the face and risk the abrasion just to make the right play and get the Canadiens out of Sin City even. He is often described as the Canadiens’ heart and soul, and they all borrowed a page from his book for this 3-2 win.

Start with Jeff Petry, who reportedly suffered dislocated fingers to his right hand in Game 3 of the second-round series between the Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets. He missed Game 4 and then wasn’t able to play a week later, when he and his teammates touched down in Vegas for Game 1 of this Stanley Cup semifinal against the Golden Knights.

Petry was literally seeing red for this one, with bilateral subconjunctival hemorrhage clouding both eyes crimson -- a fancy way of saying he had burst blood vessels that fortunately did not cause pain nor vision impairment, according to his wife, Julie, who informed the public via Instagram while he was out on the ice playing his heart out. But, more importantly, with his fingers taped together in a customized gauntlet, he gritted his way through 27 shifts, had an assist, two shots on net, two big blocked shots and finished plus-one.

It didn’t look like Petry was going to play after some gamesmanship from Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme in warmup. He didn’t take a regular line rush, and the Canadiens tweeted out their lineup with him listed as a scratch. The league even had its roster report indicating he was out, just 15 minutes before puck drop.

But there Petry was in the end, ready to deliver a huge performance.

“It means a lot,” Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme said of Petry’s presence and his character. “If he could’ve, he would’ve come back earlier. He wanted to try to play against Winnipeg on Game 4. So, it was good to see him back and see the way he played after missing a couple of games and a few (10) days.

“He’s an important player for us on both sides. The way he defends, the way he moves, the way he moves the puck is really good. And he’s a gamer. Every time you get in the critical moments, the big games, you see him at his best.”

How many Canadiens can we say that about right now? The answer is, enough for them to be exactly where they are.

Think of Joel Armia, who has gone through so many regular-season ups and downs since arriving in Montreal via trade from Winnipeg in July of 2018. He scored his fifth goal of these playoffs to put the Canadiens up 1-0 after he outmuscled Alec Martinez along the boards and forced his way back to the front to slide one off a skate and past Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

How about Paul Byron, who was waived three times this season and put under the spotlight -- along with linemates Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Josh Anderson -- to play a better game after the first one in this series left Ducharme saying he needed more consistency from his trio? He storms in on Fleury and scores his second of the playoffs with a beautiful forehand-backhand roof job that turns out to be the winning goal.

It was one of several plays that epitomized what these Canadiens have going for them against a team that was heavily favoured to trample them in this series. They have heart.

How about Tyler Toffoli -- who extended his point streak to eight games after making it 2-0 from Petry and Cole Caufield -- diving to disrupt a great chance Mark Stone had to tie the game late? Pure desperation.

Then there was Carey Price, who made 29 saves in the win including one on Alec Martinez in the second period that required him to fling his entire body across the crease.

“I’m using all my extremities so far,” said Price about the save. “It’s just about competing.”

Jon Merrill jumped back in after missing 20 days with an upper-body injury. He skated 12:52 and made a couple of key shot blocks after not playing for seven games.

Joel Edmundson was willing to eat the glass to execute a pass to Petry so the puck could get out of Montreal’s end with Vegas pressing in the final minute of the game. He had his face pasted to it by William Karlsson before the officials blew the play dead, worried he might be seriously hurt.

Edmundson was stunned, no doubt. But he dusted himself off and skated off the ice having done his job.

“This time of year, all those little plays matter,” said Byron. “Taking hits to make plays—those are the little things to sacrifice themselves for the team. Joel’s a guy that’s won before and he knows what it takes to win. The guys that we brought in certainly help bring that attitude to the team, and it’s making a huge difference right now.”

It’s not just the Cup winners like Edmundson and Corey Perry, who set up Armia’s goal and played the supervillain role to perfection in Game 2. It’s Petry and Shea Weber, who entered these playoffs barely capable of holding a stick with his left hand after suffering a late-season thumb injury that he played through for two weeks before he was forced out for the final eight games.

The 35-year-old captain played 24:42 in this one. He leads the players remaining in the playoffs in time on ice per game, tied with his partner Ben Chiarot (25:24), who came back early from hand surgery to help the Canadiens clinch a playoff spot.

Weber, Chiarot, Petry, just like Gallagher -- guys so clearly willing to do what they must.

“That’s what it is playing at this time of year,” said Ducharme. “I think in general, we have that throughout our whole team. You don’t get to this point for no reason, and we’re not finished either. There’s a reason why, and it’s because our players are engaged and they want to continue on their path.”

Their next opportunity to do exactly that comes at the Bell Centre on Friday, tied 1-1 with the Golden Knights.

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