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4 takeaways from Canadiens-Golden Knights Game 2: Carey Price was the difference

·6 min read
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The Montreal Canadiens stole home-ice advantage from the favoured Vegas Golden Knights with a 3-2 victory Wednesday, evening their second-round series at one game apiece. 

Here are 4 takeaways from Game 2: 

Montreal came out flying again in the first period, but Price was the difference

For the second consecutive game, Montreal came out flying in the first period, taking a 2-0 lead into the first intermission after creating eight high-danger chances against Vegas's one, and a whopping 85.39 percent share of the expected goals, according to Natural Stat Trick. Considering the stakes and the caliber of opponent, this was the Canadiens' most impressive frame of the playoffs. 

History often has a weird way of repeating itself and though few would argue that the Golden Knights played anywhere near their best game, they outshot the Canadiens 26-11 in the final two periods, as Carey Price withstood an onslaught of chances, forcing him to make some truly jaw-dropping stops. None was better than this second-period blocker save on Alec Martinez — who has been outstanding lately, and has been aggressive in crashing down toward the net. 

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Vegas was the better team during the final two periods, as Alex Pietrangelo recorded a brace and was arguably the best player on the ice. Max Pacioretty hit the post and bobbled a chance on a tough, bouncing puck near the crease.

The Golden Knights have plenty of reason for optimism after getting run off the ice in the first, but Price was outstanding when the Canadiens needed him to be, closing out the game with a number of quality stops. 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 16: Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens stops a shot by Mark Stone #61 of the Vegas Golden Knights as Keegan Kolesar #55 of the Vegas Golden Knights watches in the third period in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Semifinals during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on June 16, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Canadiens defeated the Golden Knights 3-2. (Photo by Sam Morris/Getty Images)
Carey Price was the difference for the Montreal Canadiens in Wednesday's victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. (Sam Morris/Getty Images)

Stephenson's absence created a domino effect

Chandler Stephenson was ruled out of Game 2 with an upper-body injury, creating a domino effect in the process. Vegas promoted Keegan Kolesar to the nominal top line, flanked by Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, and while Kolesar has been solid against bottom-six competition, he was unable to fill the void. 

It wasn't altogether an awful night for the Stone-Kolesar-Pacioretty line, generating six shots with four against, but it only created a 40 percent share of the expected goals in just under 10 minutes together at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick. Kolesar posted three goals in 44 regular season contests and is a relative non-threat offensively. Montreal treated him as such. 

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As my colleague Justin Cuthbert noted, Kolesar's promotion indeed created strategic ripples. Montreal's shutdown centre Phillip Danault — who I criticized after Game 1 for an underwhelming all-around showing and a bad penalty — was excellent against the Stone line in over six minutes at 5-on-5, but was primarily deployed against Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and William Karlsson. 

Danault mitigated the risk and was the primary reason why the Misfit Line was ineffective for large stretches of the game, save for Pietrangelo's second marker of the contest. Faceoffs as a standalone statistic can sometimes be misleading, but Danault won 61 percent of his draws and was cool, calm and collected in clutch defensive zone scenarios. It was an excellent response after a disappointing Game 1, and he'll need to continue this form as the series heads back to Montreal. 

Ducharme's adjustments worked, DeBoer's did not

Assessing NHL coaches is often a nebulous concept, with so many micro-second decisions often seeming like the result of random variation. Based on tactical adjustments alone, Dominique Ducharme outcoached his counterpart, Peter DeBoer, on Wednesday night. 

For what it's worth: I've lightly poked fun at Ducharme all year, as I thought Claude Julien shouldn't have been scapegoated on his way out, but this was arguably one of his finest coaching performances. Ducharme took Brett Kulak and Alexander Romanov out of the lineup, reinserting Jeff Petry — a no-brainer decision, really — with Jon Merrill also rejoining the corps. We'll have more on Petry below, but it was a great call from Ducharme. Sympathies will rarely be doled out during this semifinal as Kulak and Romanov both struggled miserably in Game 1. 

When it became clear that the Merrill experiment wasn't working — he was Montreal's worst player — Ducharme cut his losses early and stapled him to the bench, as opposed to giving Romanov a chance to exercise his high-end potential to no avail in Game 1. Ducharme read and reacted to what was in front of him and it paid off. 

Additionally, Ducharme could've stubbornly deployed Danault to shadow Kolesar, but when he realized Kolesar was a non-factor offensively, the defensive specialist was assigned to mitigate the risk of the Misfit Line, and it largely worked.

We've gone over the Kolesar experiment already, but when DeBoer opted to place Nicolas Roy on the Stone-Pacioretty line, it went even worse, posting a 25 percent share of expected goals in just under five minutes, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

DeBoer's miscalculations weren't for a lack of trying: he increased Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez's ice-time significantly in Game 2, in a valiant attempt to overcome a 3-0 deficit. For one night, Ducharme's adjustments had a greater impact on the game, as both coaches may once again tweak their lineups for Game 3. 

There Will Be Blood: Petry's return stabilized Montreal's defense corps 

When you have an opportunity to invoke the title of one of the greatest films of all-time, you have to take the chance. Petry returned to the lineup with burst blood vessels in his eyes, looking downright spooky. He was arguably Montreal's best defensive player, and his presence was a stabilizing force for a Canadiens team that saw its bottom-three defenders turn into a liability in Game 1. 

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Petry was terrific out of the gate, emblematic of Montreal's strong start to the contest. Logging over 20 minutes in all situations, Petry was no worse for wear, generating two shots, a secondary assist on Tyler Toffoli's goal, a 51.35 Corsi for rating and a 66 percent share of the expected goals, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

With Petry in the lineup, Ducharme was able to liberally cut minutes from his bottom pair. It may be a short bench going forward, but Petry's stellar all-around contributions made a world of difference and allowed Ducharme to tap into his top four defensemen as often as he'd like. His offensive acumen will also be greatly appreciated, as the Canadiens look to steal Game 3 and 4 on home ice. 

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