The Montreal Canadiens have an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup for the 24th time since entering the NHL in 1917.
The Canadiens advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a 3-2 overtime win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Thursday. Montreal, which also won the Cup in 1916, one year prior to the founding of the NHL, has won it 24 times, the most in the NHL; the Toronto Maple Leafs (13) and Detroit Red Wings (11) are the only other teams to win the Cup more than six times.
The Canadiens, who last won the Cup in 1993, are 12-5 in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 5-1 in overtime. They eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round and the Winnipeg Jets in four games in the second round before defeating the Golden Knights.
Here are some of the highlights along the Canadiens’ road to the Stanley Cup Final:
BEST MOMENT: Game 6 vs. Golden Knights, Semifinals — Artturi Lehkonen scored in overtime to eliminate Vegas and help Montreal advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 28 years, ending the longest drought in team history. The Canadiens bent but did not break, allowing the tying goal twice in regulation. Lehkonen’s goal was the fifth overtime winner for Montreal this postseason and occurred on St-Jean-Baptiste Day, the primary holiday for the province of Quebec.
TURNING POINT: Game 5 vs. Maple Leafs, First Round — The Canadiens didn’t have many believers outside of their locker room after the Maple Leafs took a 3-1 series lead with a 4-0 win in Game 4 at Bell Centre. Montreal was outscored 11-2 in losing three straight. After scoring four goals through the first four games, the Canadiens took a 3-0 lead in Game 5 only to give it up in the third. With the season on the line, Cole Caufield set up Nick Suzuki‘s goal 59 seconds into overtime, which was the first of three straight wins in elimination games and began a seven-game winning streak. Montreal did not allow a power-play goal in the game, and has not allowed one since, successfully killing 30 straight opportunities by Toronto, the Winnipeg Jets and Vegas.
BEST MOVES MADE: Signing Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry, Jake Allen — The addition of three Stanley Cup champions this offseason gave the Canadiens plenty of experience. Toffoli, who won the Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, provided much-needed scoring from the start of the 56-game regular season, and the forward led the Canadiens with 28 goals. Perry, who won the Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, began the season on the taxi squad before the forward worked his way into a regular spot in the lineup, ultimately forming a formidable fourth line with Eric Staal and Joel Armia. Allen, who backed up Jordan Binnington when the St. Louis Blues won the Cup in 2019, became a crucial addition after Carey Price sustained a concussion. Brought in to serve as a veteran backup to Price, Allen was thrust into the No. 1 role in the middle of the playoff race and helped the Canadiens clinch a berth as the No. 4 seed in the Scotia North Division.
BEST MOVE NOT MADE: Retaining assistant coach Luke Richardson — Assistant coach Dominique Ducharme took over as coach after Claude Julien was fired Feb. 24, and associate coach Kirk Muller was also fired. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin fired goaltending coach Stephane Waite on March 2, replacing him with Sean Burke, who was named director of goaltending. That left Richardson as the only member of the coaching staff whose role did not change during the regular season. His AHL coaching experience with Binghamton from 2012-16 and the relationships he cultivated during his tenure with Montreal made him the natural choice to assume coaching duties prior to Game 3 against Vegas after Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19.
SIGNATURE WIN (REGULAR SEASON): April 16 vs. Calgary Flames — The Canadiens needed a win in the second game of a two-game set against the Flames at Bell Centre in order to increase their lead in Scotia North Division playoff race. Toffoli scored his second goal of the game with 4:15 remaining in the third period and Allen made 28 saves in a 2-1 win, handing Calgary a defeat that ended its three-game winning streak. “We understand what’s ahead of us and what’s behind us,” Allen said. “We’re not looking behind, we’re looking at chasing the guys ahead of us. So we realize every game is important.” The Canadiens played a three-game set the following week in Calgary, with the Flames winning the first two before Montreal responded with Toffoli again scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 victory. The win put the Canadiens six points ahead of Calgary for fourth place in the North and gave them breathing room down the stretch.
SIGNATURE WIN (PLAYOFFS): Game 2 against Golden Knights, Semifinals — The Canadiens bounced back with a solid team effort after a 4-1 loss to Vegas in the series opener ended their seven-game winning streak. Joel Armia and Toffoli scored in the first and Paul Byron put Montreal up 3-0 in the second, following advice Hall of Famer Bob Gainey gave the team to keep the foot on the gas pedal and get off to fast starts when he addressed them in a surprise visit prior to the series. Montreal held on for a 3-2 win to tie the best-of-7 series. “You get that bounce early, you play with the lead, you’re not chasing the game,” Montreal forward Corey Perry said. “It falls into place from there.”
MVP: Carey Price — The No. 5 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, Price helped the Canadiens advance to the Final after their two previous trips to the Eastern Conference Final during his tenure fell short. After backing up Jaroslav Halak in a five-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, Price was sidelined with a knee injury in Game 1 of a six-game loss to the New York Rangers in 2014. But he was front and center against Vegas in the Semifinals, building on his dominant performances in series wins against Toronto and Winnipeg. Price’s signature moment was in overtime of Game 6 against the Maple Leafs when he made 13 of his 41 saves before Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored on the Canadiens’ second shot in OT. He ranks tied for first in the playoffs in save percentage (.934) and second in goals-against average (2.02) behind Jack Campbell of the Maple Leafs (1.81).
ROOKIE OF YEAR: Cole Caufield — A first-round pick (No. 15) in the 2019 Draft, Caufield has been an elite goal scorer at every level he has played, and that now includes the NHL and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 20-year-old right wing won the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in men’s NCAA Division I hockey after scoring 30 goals in 31 games with Wisconsin. He scored twice in his professional debut with Laval of the AHL, where he had three goals and an assist in two games before he was recalled by the Canadiens on an emergency basis. Caufield scored his first two NHL goals in overtime, becoming the third player to accomplish the feat. Held out of the lineup at the start of the first round, Caufield made his playoff debut in Game 3 against Toronto and quickly earned a spot in the lineup, ultimately joining center Nick Suzuki and Toffoli to form a potent offensive line. He has scored nine points (four goals, five assists) in 15 postseason games.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Big four on defense — Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson have carried the load for Montreal throughout the playoffs. Weber (25:38 average ice time per game), Chiarot (25:37), Petry (24:23) and Edmundson (23:22) are seemingly always on the ice and providing a formidable and ferocious layer of defense, making opposing forwards earn every inch of ice in front of Price. Edmundson, who won the Cup with St. Louis in 2019, was a key addition to the lineup, providing the right fit to partner with Petry after Chiarot previously found a similar bond with Weber on the top pair. The four have helped the success of the penalty-killing unit, which has not allowed a power-play goal in 13 games since Game 4 of the first round.