The Montreal Canadiens are going to the Stanley Cup Final after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in six games. They may have been underdogs in three series, but the pesky Habs look like a team of destiny.
When the teams returned to Montreal for games 3 and 4, a speed bump the size of the Long Range Mountains greeted the Habs. Just hours before the third game it was reported that Interim Coach Dominique Ducharme had tested positive for COVID-19 and would have to isolate. Assistant Coach Luke Richardson took the wheel for his first game as a head coach in the NHL.
With that story as the backdrop, the Habs got off to a very slow start in game 3. But Carey Price held the fort and Josh Anderson was the hero with a late tying goal and the overtime winner as Montreal defeated the Golden Knights, a COVID hurdle, and some pretty iffy officiating.
Shortly before game 4, Vegas announced that their general manager, Kelly McCrimmon, had also apparently contracted the coronavirus. With a second individual testing positive, anxieties about the future of the series were elevated for a few days.
In game 4, the Golden Knights countered with a goalie change, inserting Robin Lehner. Unfortunately, there was no change in officiating as Chris Lee and Dan O’Rourke were still in possession of whistles. The game was as orderly as a crowd of blue-arse flies at a fish plant.
Despite the reffing chaos, the Habs dominated the game. But this time it was Vegas who scored late and won 2-1 in overtime to tie series at two. The teams headed back to Nevada.
Marc-Andre Fleury was back in net for Vegas in game 5. Montreal dominated once again, but this time the box score reflected their efforts. The Habs won on three goals from the kids – Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki – and one from wily veteran Eric Staal. A 4-1 win took the Habs back to Montreal with a 3-2 lead in the series.
Game 6 took place on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day in Montreal, a statutory holiday in Quebec and a festival introduced to Canada by French settlers. It felt like the stars were lining up in la belle province.Vegas Coach Pete DeBoer was playing goalie musical chairs again and Lehner was back in net.
Both teams were jumpy to start and it was a sloppy game with two exhausted teams trying to find enough to tackle another shift. Montreal opened the scoring on a power play goal from Captain Shea Weber, but the teams were tied at the first intermission. Caufield was the only scorer in the second period, and Alex Martinez notched the only goal of the third for Vegas. The teams were headed to overtime.
The Golden Knights dominated the opening shift of the extra frame, but vintage Carey Price was in attendance. Then at 1:39, it was the Habs shutdown line that shut down the series when Arturri Lehkonen finished a beautiful passing play from Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. While appreciated for their defensive prowess, this line has not exactly been lighting the lamp. But that’s all history as they leave the third round as heroes.
The Canadiens have not appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals since they won the Cup in 1993, and a Canadian team has not gone to the Finals since the Vancouver Canucks in their unsuccessful 2011 bid against the Boston Bruins. Montreal will have a brief rest while they wait on their opponent.
The other semi-final series between the New York Islanders and the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning is tied at three apiece as of press deadline. The winner was to be determined on Friday night.
By the time you’re reading this, you’ll be getting ready for game one of the Stanley Cup Final which is expected to get under way on Monday night, June 28.
The NBA draft lottery was held on Tuesday, June 22nd. The Raptors went into the draft lottery with a 7.5% chance of winning the first overall pick.
Unfortunately, Lady Luck wasn’t wearing a Raptors uniform, but she did put in a good word. The Raptors were able to move up to the 4th position in the draft, where they are expected to be able to draft a core piece to move forward with.
The draft will be held on Thursday, July 29th at Barclay’s Centre, the home of the Brooklyn Nets. We’ll look at potential draft options for the Raptors closer to the draft.
Blue Jays Babble
The Blue Jays continue to lumber along at a .500 pace. CEO Mark Shapiro appeared on The Fan 590 on Thursday and was asked about his thoughts on this season’s version of the Jays, having watched the team’s ups and downs over the past month. Shapiro described his team as competitors who have been in every game, and even when losing they’re not getting blown out. He said he’s confident they will add pieces to help the team win and that “we have a run in us this year.”
It sounds like when hockey is done, we can look forward to some wheeling and dealing from the Blue Jays, and hopefully a post-season in Toronto that lasts longer than the first round.
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.