There was a lot to like about the Canadiens’ Game 4 performance.
Montreal was a goal away from taking a 3-1 series lead. Their penalty kill continued its series dominance (11-for-11), preventing the Golden Knights from scoring on their only man advantage and then watching Paul Byron make it 1-0 11 seconds after Nick Suzuki’s penalty expired. And the Habs prevented Vegas from getting any 5-on-5 high-danger scoring chances in regulation (per Natural Stat Trick), a category that they lead (156) in the playoffs.
Any overtime defeat is deflating, but when you continue to slow such an offensive force there’s no reason to lose confidence. As the Canadiens go back to Las Vegas for Game 5 Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock) they know it’s now best-of-three series.
“It’s back to business. It’s part of the job,” said assistant coach Luke Richardson, who’s still helping run the bench in Dominique Ducharme’s absence. “We’re playing well. We 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 probably going to be a long series with the way we’re playing, and they’re obviously a good team. We’re expecting that, and we’re going to be ready to push next game.”
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]
The road has a been good to Montreal this postseason. They won three of four in Toronto in the First Round; the first two of their Second Round sweep in Winnipeg; and opened this Stanley Cup Semifinal series with a split at T-Mobile Arena. It’s the business trip approach: drop in, get the win, head back home.
With two of the next three games potentially in Las Vegas, the Canadiens have been up to the task of winning away from Bell Centre.
“We’ve been the lower seed, so we’ve started every series on the road and we’ve had to put an emphasis on it, especially early in the series,” said forward Brendan Gallagher. “I’ve always been told since I was a young kid that good teams win at home and great teams find a way to win on the road in tough environments. It’s not always easy, but that’s where the character of a team is able to show. We just kind of enjoy the challenge. We’re able to settle into our game and we seem to understand the style of hockey that we need to play. There are going to be ebbs and flows. The other team is going to create some momentum and you manage that. We have a pretty experienced, veteran group, and our young guys are key players for us, so we just handle those situations well. We enjoy the opportunity to go into road rinks and play in front of a crowd like Vegas.”
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The Golden Knights were expected to be here. Montreal was not. The Canadiens are playing with house money and pushing a team that just missed out on the Presidents’ Trophy as hard as they can. A different bounce in Game 4 and Tuesday could have been an elimination game. Nicolas Roy changed all that, but even after tying up the series, the pressure still remains on Vegas.
“Coming into this series, obviously there’s a certain rhetoric about how this series is supposed to go,” Gallagher said. “I’m not saying they bought into it or believed it. We definitely didn’t. But, there are certain expectations on their side. The longer this series goes, the more the pressure just falls to them.
“Since that Game 5 against Toronto, we’ve just kind of been playing the same way — nothing to lose, leave it all on the line, and game after game, come with the same effort and energy. Hopefully, you put some doubt in the opponent’s mind and see how they handle it.
“As the series goes on, that’s when it gets fun. We get more and more comfortable in these situations. We’re looking forward to it. We shortened it to a best-of-three. We’ve gone into Vegas. We know what it’s going to be like. It’s an electric atmosphere. They definitely feed off their fans, but now that we’ve experienced it, we’re going to be more and more comfortable. This Game 5 is as important a game as it gets, but you just try and come with the same mentality that we’ve had, and hopefully that kind of creeps in there.”
CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (Series tied 2-2) – series livestream link
Game 1: Golden Knights 4, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Game 4: Golden Knights 2, Canadiens 1
Game 5: Tues. June 22: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 9 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 6: Thurs. June 24: Golden Knights at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sat. June 26: Canadiens at Golden Knights, 8 p.m ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.