The Vegas Golden Knights lamented another slow start after a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 evened the Stanley Cup Semifinals at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
The Golden Knights fell behind 2-0 and were outshot 12-4 in the first period. They have been outscored 15-8 and outshot 149-140 in the first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“For whatever reason, our starts in the playoffs haven’t been good enough,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said. “You know, we’ve been burnt before. We got burnt again tonight. You can’t go down 2-0 and expect to win the game.”
Vegas was supposed to have a pronounced home-ice advantage with capacity crowds at T-Mobile Arena, one of the most energetic venues in the NHL. Montreal hadn’t played in the United States or before a crowd of more than 2,500 for more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Canadiens were not intimidated, and they excel in first periods and when they have the lead. They have outscored their opponents 12-3 and outshot them 140-109 in first periods in the playoffs. They’re 9-1 when scoring first and 0-3 when allowing the first goal.
“I think they’re a quick-starting team,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think that’s part of their identity. … We’ve got to have an answer for that.”
In Game 1 on Monday, the Canadiens outshot the Golden Knights 12-8 in the first period, but they allowed the first goal and went on to lose 4-1.
In Game 2, the Canadiens cashed in on their opportunities. The Golden Knights outshot the Canadiens 27-11 over the final two periods but fell behind 3-0 before defenseman Alex Pietrangelo scored twice.
“A little disappointed obviously with our first 10 minutes,” DeBoer said. “I think we should have been better. We had no excuse tonight. Unfortunately, you get to the final four, you spot a team two goals, you’re playing with fire.”
Game 3 of the best-of-7 series is at Bell Centre in Montreal on Friday (8 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“Something we’ve got to continue to talk about and fix,” Pietrangelo said. “Not good enough in the beginning. Not good enough in the first period. You can see when we get to our game what we can do, but not good enough at the start.”
The Canadiens are 6-0 when leading entering the second period in these playoffs. What do they do so well when playing with the lead?
“They’re blocking shots and take away the middle of the ice, especially in their defensive zone,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s just a matter of us finding holes there and taking a look at how we can find a way to expose that. I thought we got into the [offensive] zone. It’s just a matter of finding ways to score.”
Montreal’s ability to take away the middle of the ice might help explain why five of Vegas’ six goals in the series have been scored by defensemen.
“Chasing the game is not an easy task against anybody, but these guys play a good team game when they get the lead,” Stone said. “We’ve got to do a better job with our starts, and we’ve got to find our preparation.”
That said, DeBoer said he felt the Golden Knights generated enough scoring chances and just didn’t capitalize.
“I don’t think it was a case of us getting locked down once we got behind,” DeBoer said.
Forward Max Pacioretty hit the right post early in the second period. Soon afterward, defenseman Alec Martinez had a backdoor chance but hit the pants of Canadiens goalie Carey Price instead of a gaping net. Not long after that, Pacioretty couldn’t get off a good shot at the side of the net on the power play thanks to a bouncing puck.
The power play went 0-for-2 against a Montreal team that has killed 21 straight penalties.
“I thought we had some good looks,” DeBoer said. “You can’t fall behind that much that early. It’s not even one goal. When you get down two, it’s just really hard to come back. We’ve done it before. We did it (against the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Second Round). But you’re playing with fire when you do that, and we got burned tonight.”