Artturi Lehkonen sends Canadiens to Stanley Cup Final with overtime goal

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For the first time since 1993 the Montreal Canadiens will play in the Stanley Cup Final.

They continued their dream postseason run on Thursday night with a 3-2 overtime win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6, clinching the series to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.

Artturi Lehkonen scored just 1:39 into the overtime period, beating Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner.

You can see the goal in the video above.

The celebration in downtown Montreal started immediately.

They will await the winner of Friday’s Game 7 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock).

The story for Montreal on Thursday is the same as it has been for most of the postseason, and especially this series against Vegas: Carey Price was sensational, the penalty kill was relentless, and their young players led by Cole Caufield continued to make a massive impact.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Caufield scored a magnificent goal late in the second period for his fourth of the series. That matched the total for all of Vegas’ forwards in the six games.

But it was not just Caufield’s electrifying play that made the difference on Thursday.

It was also the continued dominance of Price.

He stopped 37 out of 39 Vegas shots and carries a save percentage over .935 into the Stanley Cup Final. While his overall play has declined over the past couple of regular seasons, he has continued to be money for Montreal in the playoffs during that time. He has not had a save percentage lower than .920 in the postseason since the 2012-13 playoffs and has been over .930 in each of his past three trips.

He is still capable of putting Montreal on his back being a game-changer. He has been exactly that this postseason.

His biggest save on Thursday came early in the overtime period, just moments before Lehkonen’s winning goal, when he stopped his former teammate, Max Pacioretty, on what looked to be a glorious chance to send the series to a decisive seventh game. Montreal scored just moments after the ensuing faceoff.

Along with Price, Montreal’s overall defensive effort in this series was smothering and completely neutralized the Golden Knights’ top players, including Mark Stone. The Canadiens made Stone a non-factor for the entire series, and that was especially the case in the clinching Game 6 on Thursday when they limited him to just one shot on goal. He had just two shots on goal over the final three games of the series.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]

Montreal’s penalty kill was also a huge story, going a perfect 15-for-15 in the series (including 3-for-3 on Thursday) and has successfully killed off more than 94% of its penalties this postseason. When you get goaltending like that, and penalty killing at that level, you are going to have a chance to win in the playoffs every time.

What makes Montreal’s appearance in the Stanley Cup Final so stunning is absolutely nobody outside of Montreal expected this to happen. Or gave it a chance to happen.

The Canadiens had the lowest point total among all of the NHL’s playoff teams, had the 18th best record in the league (behind two teams that actually missed the playoffs) and were heavy underdogs in every series they played, including this one against Vegas. Not only that, they played this series without their head coach after Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID before the series. None of it mattered.

They overcome a 3-1 series deficit against Toronto in the First Round, swept Winnipeg in the Second Round, and then beat the team that tied for the best record in the league during the regular season and was the top Stanley Cup favorite remaining.

It is one of the most improbable Stanley Cup Final runs in decades, and at this point nobody should be betting against them.

It is also a historic win for Montreal as the winner of this semifinal series was awarded the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, making it the first time the Canadiens have ever won it (or had the opportunity to win it) in franchise history.

Montreal’s win also guarantees that two Eastern Conference teams (Tampa Bay and the Islanders are also both Eastern Conference teams) will meet in the Stanley Cup Final, something that could only be possible this season due to the one-year divisional alignment and playoff format.

CANADIENS VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (MTL win series 4-2)

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 (OT)

Game 5: Canadiens 4, Golden Knights 1
Game 6: Canadiens 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)