Golden Knights at Canadiens
8 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN, TVAS
Montreal leads best-of-7 series, 3-2
The Montreal Canadiens will try to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993 when they play the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals at Bell Centre on Thursday.
The Canadiens have won three of the past four games in the series and have history on their side. Montreal has an all-time record of 26-3 (.897) when leading 3-2 in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series.
Forward Tyler Toffoli said the Canadiens can use their Stanley Cup First Round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs as a cautionary lesson of how difficult it can be to finish teams when they are on the brink of elimination. The Maple Leafs led the Canadiens 3-1, but Montreal won the final three games.
“I think anyone can say that winning the final game is always the hardest,” he said. “It’s going to be tough. We just have to keep playing the way that we’re playing.”
That’s not the case for the Golden Knights, who must alter their collective game after losing 4-1 in Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday.
Vegas defenseman Zach Whitecloud agreed with coach Peter DeBoer’s assessment that the Golden Knights “imploded” in that game. Whitecloud said Vegas must find a way to get back to its puck possession game to be successful.
“We know the way to fix it, and that’s stick to our game, stick to what we do very well, and that’s playing fast and executing at a high level and holding onto pucks and managing pucks,” he said.
Teams that take a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven playoff semifinals series are 68-16 (.810) to win that series.
Here are three keys to Game 6:
1. Lehner time?
Goalie Robin Lehner occupied the net usually used by the starter and was the first off the ice after the Golden Knights’ morning skate at Bell Centre. DeBoer has not confirmed who will start Game 6, but all indications point to Lehner, who made 27 saves in the Golden Knights’ 2-1 overtime victory in Game 4 on Sunday. Forward Tomas Nosek said Vegas has an equal amount of confidence in Lehner and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “I’ve said it many times, we have the best duo in the NHL,” Nosek said. “That’s our advantage. We can switch them any time. (Lehner) is a great goalie. He proved it in Game 4 and hopefully he can prove it tonight too.”
2. Canadiens must stay in the moment
The city of Montreal is buzzing at the success of the Canadiens, especially with the team having the chance to advance to the Final for the first time in 28 years. The fact that Game 6 is being played on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, one of the most revered holidays in Quebec, increases the expectations and anticipation of the fan base. Despite the obvious distractions, assistant Luke Richardson, coaching the Canadiens because Dominique Ducharme is away from the team after a positive COVID-19 test, said the attention remains on the ice. “We’re not really talking too far ahead,” he said. “I think we’re really focused on tonight. The guys had great energy on the ice and in the meetings this morning.”
3. Golden Knights top guns must start producing
Vegas needs more production from its top forwards to have any hope of reaching Game 7. The Golden Knights had seven forwards score at least 14 goals during the regular season: Max Pacioretty (24), Mark Stone (21), Alex Tuch (18), Jonathan Marchessault (18), Chandler Stephenson (14), William Karlsson (14) and Reilly Smith (14). They have combined for one goal against Montreal, by Pacioretty in Game 5. The Golden Knights’ habit of playing too much on the outside instead of getting to the dirty areas in front of the Canadiens net has been the biggest problem. “I think as a group we can probably do a better job getting inside their defense and trying to find second opportunities,” Smith said.
Golden Knights projected lineup
Max Pacioretty — Chandler Stephenson — Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith
Mattias Janmark — Nicolas Roy — Alex Tuch
William Carrier — Tomas Nosek — Keegan Kolesar
Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague — Zach Whitecloud
Scratched: Nick Holden, Ryan Reaves, Patrick Brown, Cody Glass, Logan Thompson, Jiri Patera, Jack Dugan, Peyton Krebs, Jonas Rondbjerg, Kaedan Korczak, Dylan Coghlan, Carl Dahlstrom, Jimmy Schuldt, Dylan Sikura
Canadiens projected lineup
Artturi Lehkonen — Phillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher
Tyler Toffoli — Nick Suzuki — Cole Caufield
Paul Byron — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Josh Anderson
Joel Armia — Eric Staal — Corey Perry
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Joel Edmundson — Jeff Petry
Jon Merrill — Erik Gustafsson
Scratched: Brett Kulak, Alexander Romanov, Tomas Tatar, Michael Frolik, Alex Belzile, Xavier Ouellet, Cayden Primeau, Cale Fleury, Charlie Lindgren, Lukas Vejdemo, Laurent Dauphin, Jesse Ylonen, Otto Leskinen, Michael McNiven
Injured: Jake Evans (concussion)
Tuch did not remain on the ice for line rushes at the morning skate but is expected to play. Reaves skated in his spot during practice but the forward, who has been scratched the past two games, is not expected to play. … Hague, who has not played since Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Second Round against the Colorado Avalanche on June 6, is expected to replace Holden, a defenseman. … No lineup changes are expected for the Canadiens. … Evans wore a regular jersey rather than one for no contact during the morning skate, but the forward is not expected to play. He last played against the Winnipeg Jets in Game 1 of the second round June 2.