A pivotal third game of the North Division final. The Winnipeg Jets down two games needed to make sure that they did not go down by three. History does not look kindly on the teams that have gone down three games to none in an NHL playoff series. The Montreal Canadiens knew they could seriously damage the psyche of the Jets with a win. It was the Canadiens who had the answers again with a 5-1 win to take a three game lead in the series.
There’s a good chance something special can happen when your fourth line is your best line. Usually, you’re just hoping your fourth line can hold its own. With the Canadiens at the moment, when Eric Staal, Joel Armia and Corey Perry head out there, the cycle begins.
First period and Perry is using that gigantic hockey brain to break down the Jets defence. He wasn’t skating through them with speed or powering through them with force. He was beating them with his choices. He held on to the puck when they were passive. He passed it off when they were active.
It is just one big-brained choice after another out there. He and Eric Staal were ineffective when fatigue took hold, but they have found remarkable energy for this playoff after an eight-day layoff. Staal is the leading scorer on the club in the playoffs after he assisted on the Perry goal to open up the scoring in the first period.
If you had Perry and Staal as two of the top four forwards on the team in the second round, then you’re a liar. You would be hard-pressed to find even a single human being who said Staal and Perry were going to lead the Habs. Such is the nature of the hockey playoffs. Don’t try to predict them as you will be wrong.
Another player who looked to be struggling badly with the workload during the second half of the season was Shea Weber. He was often having difficulty getting the puck cleared out of his zone. These days you see Weber dipsy-doodling through the offensive zone and ripping slap shots on the power play not from 55 feet, but from 25 feet. Some of the aspects of the game to ignite Weber that were not working are suddenly looking different.
Let Weber shoot from 25 feet and it’s bound to go differently than it has been with Connor Hellebuyck having half of his reaction time cut off in the equation. Weber’s defensive partner has carried such an enormous workload, as well. Ben Chiarot, when he played in Winnipeg, was a second pair defender who sometimes even got third pair ice time. These days he is close to 30 minutes per game.
Eight playoff games without a goal for Cole Caufield. That’s probably longer than he has ever gone in his life. So is it time to worry? On the contrary, as the chances keep coming. He’s a scorer with his tremendous shot and keen hockey sense. The goals will come if the chances come. The real concern as he headed into his first 20 games as an NHL pro was would he be able to implicate himself in the play? Would he be able to get the puck, and create with the puck? The answer is a resounding yes.
Another question was with that size, would he be a defensive liability, causing his ice time to diminish? The answer is a resounding no. Caufield in his short time in the league against two quite good hockey teams primarily is actually driving the play extremely well. He is rarely on the wrong side of Expected Goals Percentage or Corsi at the end of the night. Sometimes he is the best Canadiens player or in the top five in analytics.
When Caufield is on with Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli, the hockey is being played in the offensive zone. This is all setting up extremely well for Caufield to be a strong pro. The goals? They will come. For now, an assist on a sweet pass to Nick Suzuki for the 4-1 goal for Montreal.
When the Canadiens were playing their best hockey of the season at the start, when they amassed a 7-1-2 record, they scored seven of their nine shorthanded goals of the season. It’s difficult to know whether taking shorthanded chances is a sign of confidence, or something strategically different, but the shorthanded goals are back and so are the wins.
Game one of the Leafs series, Paul Byron scored an unbelievable shorthanded goal. It was the game-winner as he counted from his knees over the shoulder of Jack Campbell. In the Jets series, the shorthanded goals continue. Game two in Winnipeg, there was only a single goal in the entire game, and it was shorthanded. Tyler Toffoli with the tally. That’s two game-winners. Game three and a third huge shorthanded goal. With the score 2-0 and the Jets pressing; instead, it was Joel Armia and Byron on a 2-on-1. It was Armia who finished it upstairs. In the third period, Armia’s empty netter was also shorthanded. That’s four shorthanded goals in ten games. Remarkable.
Finally, the usual praise of Carey Price. He is still in the zone these playoffs. Heading into game three with a save percentage of .935, and he allowed only one goal on 26 shots. Only Philipp Grubauer is ahead of Price with a .941 heading into his Sunday night game. What’s there to say at this point. They shoot. He saves it. Ole. Ole. Ole.
A massive loss for the Canadiens as Jeff Petry has been injured in a freak accident. Petry was defending in his own zone and he reached out to touch the glass, but what he found was the hole in the glass that is there for photographers to take shots without glare.
Of course, he was not expecting that, and as a result, Petry got his pinky caught when he was trying to remove it. It did look like his pinky bent, though, admittedly, it was difficult to tell. Petry came back and played some shifts, but in the third period, he was declared to have an upper-body injury, and he did not return.
This would be a massive loss for the Canadiens. They have completely leaned on two pairs in these playoffs with Chiarot, Weber, Joel Edmundson, and Petry all hovering between 25 and 30 minutes, depending on the night. The support blue liners have been between five and 10 minutes. They will have to step up if Petry has a fracture to a finger.
We also may see Alexander Romanov for the first time in these playoffs. The only goat is a hole in the glass.
Covid-19 new cases under 200 for the first time since last summer, and vaccinations at 70 per cent for those eligible, has fans hoping that more than 2,500 will be allowed soon at the Bell Centre. Word is that that is still not being considered this round.
If the Canadiens were to advance to the third round, they would begin with the winner between Colorado and Vegas. It would not be until game three that they would host a third-round game, so that adds another five to seven days.
It is entirely possible that a first third-round home game would be June 21 or June 22. That allows the province to keep healing and vaccinating, permitting Premier Francois Legault to allow more fans without too much pushback.
We shall see, but first the business at hand, of course, is seeing if Montreal can be Canada’s representative in the third round by eliminating Winnipeg.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.