On Monday night, June 14, the puck dropped on the semi-final series between the Montreal Canadiens and the Vegas Golden Knights. Going into the series, chatter centred around a trade between the two. On Sept. 10, 2018 the Canadiens traded then-Captain Max Pacioretty, who was entering the final year of his contract, to Vegas in return for Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar and a 2nd round pick.
Pacioretty immediately signed a four-year extension in Vegas and has become an important fixture in their line-up. Patch had 4 goals and 4 assists in 7 playoff games heading into the 3rd round. Suzuki started his NHL career in the 2019-20 season and has become as equally important to the Habs as the budding top line centre they’ve lacked for years. He had 4 goals and 4 assists in 11 games this post-season heading into the semi-finals.
Tatar has served the Canadiens just as well, playing for the last two years on a dominant two-way line with Philip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. But when the playoffs arrive, Tatar has a tendency to disappear like a free lobster buffet during Come Home Year. With just one assist this post-season, Tatar has found himself a healthy scratch of late. Would he get a chance to redeem himself against the team that moved him as a salary dump?
Then there is that 2nd rounder. It was flipped to Los Angeles for a 3rd and a 5th rounder. During the break between rounds the Habs signed Mattias Norlinder, their selection with that 3rd round pick, to his entry level deal. Norlinder is a skilled puck moving defenceman who has been developing in Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League.
Now don’t mistake me for Rex Murphy – I am going somewhere with all this.
For Vegas, the trade meant adding a significant veteran player who could compete immediately. Pacioretty was intended to be an elite scorer to take them over the top.
For Montreal, trading Patch meant acknowledging they had a lot of holes to fill – they would need some time to reset before they could be competitive again.
Nonetheless, the paths of both teams merged this past week to begin a Best of 7 series in the third round of the 2020-2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Game 1 got underway on Monday night at “arse o’clock”, as Alan Doyle quipped on Twitter. Aren’t those western time zones fun for fans in Newfoundland and Labrador?
Jeff Petry was unable to suit up for the Canadiens after being injured in the third game of the Jets series. The Habs got out to a strong start but Marc-Andre Fleury held down the fort, and it was Vegas that drew first blood. They took the first game, with a score of 4-1.
Jeff Petry was back in the line-up for Montreal for Game 2 on Wednesday night, along with Jon Merrill who had been injured during the Leafs series.
This time it was the Golden Knights missing a key player with Chandler Stephenson out due to an undisclosed injury. The Habs started strong again, but this time they were able to beat Fleury and took a 2-0 into the first intermission thanks to goals from Joel Armia and Tyler Toffoli. The second period featured a breakaway goal from Paul Byron, and a late goal from Alex Pietrangelo who also notched the only goal in the third.
The referees worked really hard to help the Golden Knights win this one – exactly zero penalties were called against Vegas despite a couple of flagrant fouls happening in front of officials. They’re blind as a bat, apparently.
But the Habs were able to lock it down and hang on, and it was the Byron goal that served as the game winner to tie the series.
As for the Pacioretty-Suzuki matchup, after two games neither had hit the score sheet and Tatar remains in the press box. That plot can only thicken as the series moves forward.
The teams headed to Montreal for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday night respectively.
Last week news broke that Pascal Siakam underwent successful surgery at the end of the season to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. His recovery time is expected to be about five months.
The draft lottery will take place on Tuesday, June 22 and fans are wondering if this will be one of the last official tasks for President Masai Ujiri. By press deadline, Ujiri had not signed a contract extension with the Raptors.
Blue Jays Babble
This week George Springer got into his first rehab game with the Bisons, the Blue Jays affiliate in Buffalo. Springer, the Jays’ biggest off-season acquisition, began the season on the injured list. When he was finally able to join the team, he played just four games before returning to the IL. He is expected to bring a boost to an already potent offence when healthy.
In the meantime, a pitching staff that was already hurting lost starter Steven Matz to a positive COVID-19 test. Matz was reported to be symptom-free but would still need to isolate for ten days.
The season is slowly slipping into the history books and the Jays are middling around .500. With trade season starting to warm up, fans and pundits are wondering how much longer management will wait before adding pitching help. With the off-season they had, expectations are high for an aggressive push to make the play-offs.
But the clock is ticking louder than a cricket in your pillowcase.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and newbie ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or debate, just as long as it remains respectful. She posts her game time thoughts on twitter as @lori10habs.