With 3-2 series lead, Canadiens frustrating Golden Knights

Jun 23, 2021, 1:59 AM | Updated: 3:54 pm

MONTREAL (AP) — Canadiens defenseman Erik Gustafsson enjoys the notion of the Vegas Golden Knights showing signs of frustration in being pushed to the brink of elimination in their Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series.

That’s what happens when most everyone discounted Montreal’s chances before the series began.

“We were kind of going into this series as underdogs, and they probably thought they were going to have more puck possession and do more stuff on the power play,” Gustafsson said Wednesday, before the Canadiens boarded a flight home with a 3-2 series lead and Game 6 at Montreal on Thursday night. “But I think we’ve been on them from Game 1.”

Much like the NHL’s lowest-seeded team entering the playoffs did against Toronto and Winnipeg in the first two rounds, the Canadiens’ smothering defense and quick-strike transition offense has Vegas searching for answers following a 4-1 loss on Tuesday.

Captain Mark Stone embodied the Golden Knights’ frustration midway through the second period when he headed to the bench and furiously slammed shut the door. It came after his turnover led to Cole Caufield converting Corey Perry’s pass on a 2-on-1 break for a power-play goal to put Montreal up 3-0.

Vegas even heard it from their home crowd, which booed as both power-play chances came up empty.

“We weren’t playing well, so maybe we deserved it,” defenseman Brayden McNabb. “Our fans are great. We love the fans. I’m sure they were as frustrated as we were.”

Coach Peter DeBoer said losing should frustrate any team.

“I’m not sure we’re victim to anything other than we haven’t won enough. And we’re not used to not winning,” he said after the Golden Knights arrived in Montreal.

“I think we know we can play better than we did last night. And it’s on us to come out and roll out our best game. We’ve got a group that’s been here before. And I don’t think we’re overwhelmed by the position we’re in.”

The Golden Knights can’t afford yet another dud, and they’re running out of time — and apparently answers — in needing to jumpstart an anemic offense.

Defensemen account for seven of the Golden Knights’ 11 goals against Montreal, and Vegas’ power-play unit has gone 0 of 15 in the series while converting a postseason-worst 4 of 41 opportunities.

The offensive woes suddenly bring back memories of last year, when Vegas scored eight goals in five games in being eliminated by Dallas in the Western Conference final.

“It’s the same thing last year,” forward Jonathan Marchessault said. “We don’t have any excuses. We need solutions ASAP.”

Vegas was the heavy favorite entering the series after finishing with 16 more wins and 23 more points than Montreal. And the narrative didn’t change after the Golden Knights opened the series with a convincing 4-1 victory.

The Canadiens, however, have proven to be an unflinching and focused team, which now stands one win from its first berth in the Stanley Cup Final since winning the championship in 1993.

Very little has fazed Montreal since being down 3-1 in its first-round series against Toronto.

The Canadiens have won 10 of 12 since, overcome missing one of their top defensemen, Jeff Petry, for two games, and even playing without interim coach Dominique Ducharme for the past three games since he tested positive for COVID-19.

“I don’t think we change much,” forward Eric Staal said. “That’s what our mindset has been this whole playoff, is getting to do what we do regardless of what happens.”

The Canadiens have even begun developing a swagger, evidenced in how Caufield responded to a question about Vegas goalie Robin Lehner sharing his scouting report after stopping the rookie forward on a breakaway in Game 4. Lehner said the book on Caufield is he either aims high or five-hole.

“It’s good that he’s kind of opening his mouth,” Caufield said. “You know what he’s thinking now.”

Assistant coach Luke Richardson loved hearing Caufield’s response.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to faze that guy,” Richardson said of the 5-foot-7 forward. “I’m sure he’s been told his whole life he’s too small to play, and proved everybody wrong up until now, and now he’s in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

The Canadiens travel back to a hockey-mad Montreal, where the buzz over their playoff run is reaching new levels.

Digital signs on transit busses flash “Go, Habs, Go!” Near-empty streets at puck drop on Tuesday night gave way to horn-honking cars following the win. Provincial health officials have loosened their pandemic bar-closing rules on game nights by providing leeway in allowing establishments to stay open and continue serving should games go past midnight.

And Montrealers will already be in a partying mood. Game 6 falls on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, the Quebec nation’s cultural holiday, and equivalent to the Fourth of July in the U.S., though the festivities will be limited due to the coronavirus.


AP freelance writer W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas contributed to this report.


More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill catches a pass during the first half of an NFL football ga...
Associated Press

Tyreek Hill, Dolphins success shows value of elite WRs

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson Jr. mostly practices wide receiver drills during his offseasons, partly because running back drills are second nature to him, but also because he understands the importance of being a pass catcher in today’s NFL. “I remember one point in time, it was a running […]
2 days ago
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick walks off the field after the team's 24-10 loss to t...
Associated Press

Questions linger as Patriots’ offense falls short again

FOXBOROUGH, Mass, (AP) — Quarterback Mac Jones was adamant his expletive-laced tirade on the sideline during the Patriots 24-10 loss to Buffalo was about motivating himself and not an emotional plea about the play calling or anything directed at his coaches. Only he knows for certain. What does seem apparent is his vocal outburst had […]
2 days ago
Michigan defensive back Mike Sainristil, left, tackles Ohio State receiver Emeka Egbuka during the ...
Associated Press

CFP deja vu: TCU in third, Ohio State lurking and lobbying

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — TCU has been in this position before, third in the College Football Playoff rankings going into its last game before the final four teams are set. And just like in 2014, there sits Ohio State in fifth, hoping for a chance to move up. Those rankings are the same, but […]
2 days ago
FILE - Portland Thorns FC celebrates with the trophy after the won the NWSL championship soccer mat...
Associated Press

Thorns coach resigns after players ask her to step down

Portland Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson resigned Friday, just five weeks after she led the team to the National Women’s Soccer League championship. Wilkinson issued a statement that said players had asked for her resignation and she complied. Wilkinson said she was investigated and cleared of wrongdoing by the NWSL and its players union after she […]
2 days ago
Australia's players celebrate their 1-0 victory at the end of the World Cup group D soccer match be...
Associated Press

World Cup Viewer’s Guide: Americans face the Netherlands

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Christian Pulisic became an American star with the winning goal — and the injury he got while scoring it — that lifted the United States into the round of 16 at the World Cup. He injured his pelvic bone, Pulisic insisted, when he collided with Iran’s goalkeeper on the goal that […]
2 days ago
Brazil supporters put up a banner featuring Brazil team legends including Pele prior to the World C...
Associated Press

Brazil fans at World Cup show support for soccer great Pelé

LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Brazilian fans showed their support for soccer great Pelé ahead of the national team’s match against Cameroon at the World Cup on Friday. The 82-year-old Pelé, who had a colon tumor removed last year, was hospitalized Tuesday in Sao Paulo to regulate his medication. Doctors said Friday he had a respiratory […]
2 days ago
With 3-2 series lead, Canadiens frustrating Golden Knights