Golden Knights’ comeback falls short against Canadiens in Game 2
The brooms must be put back in the closet, and the jokes aimed at the deficiencies of the North Division have to stop.
Any notion the Golden Knights would have an easy time in the Stanley Cup semifinals with the underdog Canadiens was put to rest Wednesday.
The slow-starting Knights fell into a hole in the first period, and their comeback attempt fell short in a 3-2 loss to Montreal in Game 2 at T-Mobile Arena.
The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1 and shifts to Montreal for Game 3 on Friday at Bell Centre.
“Those people that said we were going to sweep are the same people that said Colorado was going to sweep us,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for their team. They’ve beaten two very good hockey teams to get here and won a lot of games.
“We’re in a better spot than we were last round after two games, and we’ll go into Montreal and look to win a game.”
The Knights, who had their five-game winning streak snapped, played without first-line center Chandler Stephenson and fell into the trap of trying to do too much after the stingy Canadiens took the lead in the first period.
The Knights scrambled forward lines at the start of the second period and attempted several home run passes that didn’t connect, resulting in icings.
Once the Knights simplified their game, they chipped away at the deficit, with defenseman Alex Pietrangelo accounting for both goals.
But Canadiens goalie Carey Price finished with 16 of his 29 saves in the third period, including Alex Tuch’s partial breakaway early in the period.
“They protect the middle of the ice really well, especially in front of their net,” Pietrangelo said. “They take away the middle of the ice, especially in their defensive zone. It’s just a matter of us finding holes there and taking a look at how we can find a way to expose that.”
The Canadiens, the lowest-seeded team remaining in the postseason, used the same conservative game plan that frustrated Toronto and Winnipeg in the first two rounds.
Montreal generated 11 shots on goal in the final two periods while nursing the lead and improved to 9-1 when scoring first.
The Knights, who rolled in the opener, made a push in the second period trailing 2-0 but gave up a backbreaking goal with 2:15 remaining. Paul Byron was left unchecked through the neutral zone and ended up on a breakaway after scooping up a loose puck.
Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury went for the poke-check, but Byron easily stickhandled around the attempt and backhanded in his second goal of the playoffs.
“Regretted that as soon as I did it,” Fleury said. “I made up my mind a little too early about it. He cut towards the middle pretty early, and I was too far away. I should not have done that.”
Pietrangelo cut Montreal’s lead to 3-1 with 1:13 left in the second with a shot from the point that meandered through traffic.
He added his third of the postseason with 5:14 to play, but the Knights couldn’t prevent Montreal from stealing home-ice advantage.
“For whatever reason, our starts in the playoffs haven’t been good enough,” captain Mark Stone said. “The last two periods I thought we played pretty well, but chasing the game is not an easy task against anybody.”
The Canadiens, who welcomed back defenseman Jeff Petry after a two-game absence, put the Knights on their heels in the first period with a strong forecheck.
Joel Armia opened the scoring at 6:12 after spell of sustained pressure from Montreal’s fourth line.
Corey Perry dug out the puck behind the net and found defenseman Joel Edmundson at the point. His shot deflected off William Carrier’s skate to Armia at the back post, and Fleury couldn’t get across in time to stop the shot.
Montreal went ahead 2-0 at 16:30 as Tyler Toffoli one-timed a pass from Cole Caufield to extend his point streak to eight games.
The Canadiens have a plus-nine goal differential (12-3) in the first period during the postseason.
“They’re a quick-starting team. That’s part of their identity,” DeBoer said. “Going into Game 1, they had the lead in seven straight games, I believe. That’s part of what they do. We’ve got to have an answer for that.”
Contact David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.
Game 1: Knights 4, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Canadiens 3, Knights 2
Game 3: 5 p.m. Friday, Montreal (USA)
Game 4: 5 p.m. Sunday, Montreal (NBCSN)
Game 5: 6 p.m. Tuesday, T-Mobile Arena (NBCSN)
x-Game 6: 5 p.m. June 24, Montreal (USA)
x-Game 7: 5 p.m. June 26, T-Mobile Arena (NBCSN)