While almost no one predicted this pairing, everyone is surely salivating at the idea of watching Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury go save for save. And why wouldn’t they be? Two of the elite of the elite backstops are facing off with a spot in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final on the line.
Fleury and his crew advanced to the semifinals after a hard-fought Game 7 win against the Wild in the opening round and what some may call a surprising second-round series win over the Avalanche. They did lose the first two games in Round 2, so that would have been a fair assessment before the puck dropped for Game 3; however, let’s also remember that while Colorado won the Presidents’ Trophy, it only did so thanks to a win in the last game of the regular season and because it held the tiebreaker (regulation wins) over Vegas.
On the other hand, you can say that the Canadiens are a surprise. Montreal started the season on fire but the flame was quickly extinguished and Claude Julien and his staff were pink-slipped by late February. Then things turned a bit and the team went into the postseason as the No. 4 seed in the North Division. Now the Habs are the Kings of the North after handing the Maple Leafs another first-round exit despite trailing 3-1 in the series and sweeping the Jets, who had just swept the Oilers.
Both teams are looking to capture the best trophy in sports. It has been 28 years since the Canadiens — or any Canadian team — last drank out of the Cup and Vegas still has that newborn smell in its fourth year of existence. The Golden Knights almost won it all in all in 2018 and made the conference finals in 2020. But before these team can even think about fulfilling their Stanley Cup dreams in 2021, they have to face each other where only one will move on.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Montreal Canadiens: Schedule, odds, breakdown, prediction
Stanley Cup semifinals schedule
(* If necessary)
In the U.S., every game of the Golden Knights-Canadiens series can also be streamed on fuboTV, which offers a 7-day free trial.
The teams did not play against each other in 2021 because of COVID-19 restrictions. Here is a quick look at some stats against the other six (for Montreal) or seven (for Vegas) teams in their respective divisions (per NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick):
(Odds by FanDuel )
It’s hard to gauge how offenses will do in the postseason compared to the regular season. Both teams saw their goals for per game drop (Vegas down to 3.08 and Montreal to 2.55) but they’ve both persevered. And both are getting production across the lineup.
The Golden Knights’ playoffs points leader is William Karlsson with 11, but four players have eight points (Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Pietrangelo, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone), three have seven points (Mattias Janmark, Alex Tuch and Reilly Smith) and three have six (Nicolas Roy, Shea Theodore and Nick Holden). In fact, 21 players have at least one point — and that includes netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Vegas has a Corsi For percentage of 54.32 and leads in the postseason in shot attempts (691), Expected Goals For (27.97), Scoring Chances For (296) and High-Danger Chances For (122). This is a team clicking on all cylinders and able to score at key times.
There’s a similar offensive structure across the ice. The Canadiens are also getting production up and down the roster. Tyler Toffoli leads with 10 points, followed by 18 players with at least a point. They’ve also had seven different players pump home game-winners, with Toffoli, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki scoring in extra sessions.
Speaking of the kids, Kotkaniemi, Suzuki and 2021 Hobey Baker winner Cole Caufield have provided a much-needed jolt to the lineup. The former two have four goals apiece while Caufield has four assists — including his setup of Suzuki’s overtime goal in Game 5 against the Leafs and Toffoli’s series-ender against the Jets, also in OT. Montreal will need the youngsters’ legs in this series to keep pace and get around the Golden Knights’ big, strong defensemen.
Edge: Golden Knights
Big, strong defensemen, you say? Look no further than Alex Pietrangelo, who has — no surprise here — stepped up his game. He’s putting up postseason numbers that track similarly to when he led the Blues to their first Stanley Cup in 2019. At 5v5, he has an individual Corsi For at 68 and an individual Expected Goals at 1.19, and he leads the team in Expected Goals For (10.8) (per Natural Stat Trick).
But he’s not the only defenseman to keep an eye on. Zach Whitecloud took a spectacular 2020 postseason campaign and elevated his play even higher in 2021. In his first full NHL season, the 24-year-old blue-liner has become key to the Vegas defense. He leads the team in Corsi For percentage (59.11) and Scoring Chances For percentage (60.54) in the postseason.
Looking beyond those two, the Golden Knights have Shea Theodore, Nick Holden and Alec Martinez. The latter is the only player who has suited up with a CF% below 50 (he’s at 46.41).
Translation: A whole lotta time is not spent in Vegas’ end.
A big part of that has to do with the Golden Knights suiting up one of the best defensive forwards in the game in Mark Stone (2021 Selke finalist) and the fact that when the puck is in their end, they block shots left and right; Vegas leads the league with 249 blocked shots and is averaging 19 blocks per game, most among the remaining playoff teams.
Montreal’s defense hinges on the play between the pipes, but the blue-liners have been able to shut down some of the games’ biggest names as well. Rocket Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews had one goal and Mitch Marner was kept off the board in the opening round. Jets forwards Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor collected two points combined in the second round.
The group should get a boost with Jeff Petry back in the lineup. Montreal’s top points producer from the blue line in the regular season missed most of Game 3 and all of Game 4 against the Jets after reportedly getting his hand stuck in a camera hole above the boards and dislocating two fingers. Jon Merrill, who hasn’t played since May 27 because of an injury, is also traveling to Vegas with the team.
Edge: Golden Knights
This series is all about the netminders: Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price. Two guys with storied careers who can control games from start to finish. It’ll be must-see TV.
Fleury vs. Price 2021 playoff comparison
Despite having heavy hitters on both ends of the rink, Vegas’ power play and penalty kill have been meh in the postseason at 14.3 and 71.4 percent, respectively. Montreal’s special team have not been meh at all. After putting up a goose egg in their first 15 chances against the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens are 6 for 17 with the man advantage since then. They have been 82.4 percent effective when short-handed.
Key players to watch
Max Pacioretty (VGK): Who doesn’t love a tantalizing storyline? The ex-Canadiens captain will surely love nothing more than to send his old team golfing. He was shipped west three years ago and has flourished in Sin City. He missed the first six games of the playoffs (after missing the last six games of the regular season) but returned to the lineup in a big way. In seven games, he has four goals and four assists with a team-best 1.14 points per game. He hasn’t played much against the Canadiens in his career but does have two points (goal, assist) in three games against the franchise that made him a first-round draft pick in 2007.
Cole Caufield (MTL): Speaking of first-rounders, Caufield has injected a ton of energy into the Canadiens’ lineup. As mentioned, he has set up multiple big goals — and that was after he was a healthy scratch for the first two games of the postseason. Caufield is a pure goal scorer, and while he doesn’t have a goal in the postseason just yet (four assists, three of them primary ain’t shabby), he has come close. He has a whopping 34 shot attempts (29 of which got past the defense) and 22 shots on net.
Golden Knights vs. Canadiens playoff history
These two teams have never met in the postseason.
Last five playoff appearances
Vegas Golden Knights
Golden Knights vs. Canadiens prediction
It’ll all come down to which netminder can outduel the other.
Prediction: Golden Knights in 6
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