If you told me right now you had Golden Knights vs Canadiens as your Stanley Cup Semifinal matchup, I’d call you a liar and ask to see your bracket. And after that, I’d still probably believe it was photoshopped.
The Montreal Canadiens’ unlikely advancement and the Vegas Golden Knights’ impressive rally from a 2-0 series deficit against the top-seeded Colorado Avalanche should make for a surprising yet thoroughly entertaining semifinal matchup.
In this Golden Knights vs Canadiens series preview, I’ll break down all you need to know before Vegas and Montreal take the ice, along with a winning pick for who will advance in the 2021 NHL Playoffs.
Golden Knights vs Canadiens Series Schedule
GAME ONE: Monday, June 14 @ Vegas, 9:00 P.M.
GAME TWO: Wednesday, June 16 @ Vegas, 9:00 P.M.
GAME THREE: Friday, June 18 @ Montreal, 8:00 P.M.
GAME FOUR: Sunday, June 20 @ Montreal, 8:00 P.M.
GAME FIVE*: Tuesday, June 22 @ Vegas, 9:00 P.M.
GAME SIX*: Thursday, June 24 @ Montreal, 8:00 P.M.
GAME SEVEN*: Saturday, June 26 @ Vegas, 8:00 P.M.
* = if needed, all times Eastern
Golden Knights vs Canadiens Matchup History
Vegas and Montreal have never met in the playoffs, partially due to the Golden Knights’ recent entry to the league and partially due to playing in opposing conferences. In any other year, a Golden Knights vs Canadiens matchup would have assured the winner would take home the Stanley Cup, but this year doesn’t fit that mold.
Montreal has won five of the six regular season meetings between the two clubs; however, three of those five wins came in overtime. Vegas’ lone win came on February 17, 2018 in a 6-3 home win. The Golden Knights chased Antti Niemi after allowing three goals on six shots in the first period. Carey Price entered the game in relief instead of getting the night off, stopping 25 of 28 shots but not earning a decision.
Their last meeting was January 18, 2020, which ended in a 5-4 shootout win for the Canadiens. Vegas scored twice in the final two minutes to force overtime, but Tomas Tatar scored the shootout winner for Montreal.
Marc-André Fleury: 8-2-2, 1.91 GAA, .923 save percentage, one shutout (regular season: 26-10-0, 1.98 GAA, .928 save percentage, six shutouts, career bests in GAA and save percentage)
Robin Lehner: 0-1-0, 7.03 GAA, .811 save percentage (regular season: 13-4-2, 2.29 GAA, .913 save percentage, one shutout)
Carey Price: 8-3-0, 1.97 GAA, .935 save percentage, one shutout (regular season: 12-7-5, 2.64 GAA, .901 save percentage, one shutout)
Jake Allen: No Playoff Stats, (regular season: 11-12-5, 2.68 GAA, .907 save percentage)
Peyton Krebs – Jaw, expected return: Monday, June 14
Tomas Nosek – Undisclosed, expected return: Monday, June 14
Jonathan Drouin – Personal, expected return: September 2021
Jake Evans – Concussion, expected return: Wednesday, June 16
Jon Merrill – Undisclosed, expected return: Friday, June 18
Jeff Petry – Hand, expected return: Wednesday, June 16
Ryan Poehling – Wrist, expected return: September 2021
Tomas Tatar – Undisclosed, expected return: Monday, June 14
Power Play: 14.3% (4/28), 14th in Playoffs (regular season: 17.8%, 22nd in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 71.4% (20/28), 12th in Playoffs (regular season: 86.8%, first in NHL)
Power Play: 18.8% (6/32), eighth in Playoffs (regular season: 19.2%, 17th in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 90.3% (28/31), first in Playoffs (regular season: 78.5%, 23rd in NHL)
Golden Knights vs Canadiens Storylines
Vegas is competing in its third semifinal round in the four-season existence of the franchise, while Montreal has advanced to the semis for the first time since the 2013-14 playoffs.
One player who is a must-watch skater the second he steps on the ice in Vegas’ Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty led Vegas in goals (24) during the regular season, and after missing the start of the playoffs with an injury, he has scored four goals and four assists in seven games.
Pacioretty started his career with the Montreal Canadiens. After 10 seasons north of the border, the Canadiens traded Pacioretty to Vegas for Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, and a 2019 second round pick (eventually turning into Mattias Norlinder and Jacob LeGuerrier through a series of trades).
After a slump at the end of the regular season, Carey Price has returned to his 2015 form, a year in which he won both the Vezina and Hart Trophies as best goaltender and league MVP. Price leads all playoff goalies in save percentage and ranks third in GAA.
At the other end of the ice, Marc-André Fleury has been phenomenal in the playoffs as well, ranking second in GAA and posting a shutout. He also has made the fourth-most saves overall (276) of any playoff goaltender (Price is in second at 315) despite getting the night off in Game One of the Avalanche series. Pete DeBoer’s managing of Fleury during the Cup run is important, and it’s possible we again see Robin Lehner at some point against Montreal, perhaps as early as Game One.
With defenseman Jeff Petry out for Game One, Montreal’s defense will be at a considerable disadvantage to open the series. Petry finished third in goals and seventh in points among NHL defensemen during the regular season (12 goals, 30 assists) and was averaging nearly 24 minutes of ice time per game.
However, Montreal’s penalty kill is still a force to be reckoned with. The Canadiens’ playoff-best 90.3% kill rate is made even better considering they’ve scored four shorthanded goals. The rest of the playoff teams combined have six. With an already anemic power play, Vegas will likely need to rely on 5-on-5 offense for the bulk of their scoring.
Montreal is easily the most difficult team to predict in these playoffs and quite possibly the hardest in the last five years. They entered the playoffs as a team with barely a point per game (59 points in 56 games) and their -9 goal differential was the worst of any playoff team.
But like we saw with the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, getting hot at the right time can sometimes be all you need. Montreal appeared to be headed for the golf course down 3-1 in the series against Toronto, but they’ve rattled off seven straight wins and have not trailed at any point in those contests.
For those reasons, I wouldn’t be surprised if Montreal won the series. However, I think the Canadiens will meet their toughest test defensively in Vegas and the clock will strike midnight on their Cinderella run. Montreal doesn’t have the star power yet to keep pace with Vegas’ high-end scorers and could struggle against a solid Golden Knights defensive group.
Either way, this is going to be a fun series. Watch as much of it as you can.
Series Prediction: Vegas Golden Knights in Six Games.
Be sure to check out our preview of the Lightning vs Islanders series!