The Vegas Golden Knights have taken a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Montreal Canadiens thanks to a 4-1 win in Game 1 Monday night at T-Mobile Arena.
It is the first time the Knights have held a 1-0 lead in the third round of the playoffs after dropping the first game to both Winnipeg (2018) and Dallas (2020).
It’s also the team’s first Game 1 win of the 2021 postseason after losing 1-0 in overtime to Minnesota and taking a 7-1 beating in Game 1 in Denver.
Plus, the win is Vegas’ fifth consecutive and fifth straight win on home ice going back to Game 7 against the Wild.
Speaking of Minnesota, the beginning of the first period on Monday was reminiscent of Vegas’ sluggish starts back in the first round. Granted, it’s not unexpected for the road team to make a big push at the start of a game. But Montreal was in control, the Knights were chasing, Marc-Andre Fleury was diving all over the place and Vegas looked overwhelmed.
Fortunately for the Knights, Fleury was sharp early on, neutralizing the Canadiens’ surge and ultimately stopping all 12 shots in the first period to keep the Knights in the game.
Vegas opened the scoring on its sixth shot of the series at 9:15 of the first when Shea Theodore scored his first of the postseason.
After the goal and especially after the first period, the ice tilted in Vegas’ favor for the rest of the game.
The Knights gave up a power-play goal, and they stopped playing down the stretch, leaving Fleury to fend for himself as the Canadiens fired off seven shots in the final 1:37 of regulation. But after the first half of the first period, the Knights were dominant in all three zones, and Fleury erased any minor mistakes along the way.
Montreal will have a response tonight in Game 2, but if the Knights play the way they did on Monday, they could head to Montreal with a two-game edge.
The Knights have taken a 2-0 series lead just twice over the last four seasons. The first was in Vegas’ first-round sweep of Los Angeles back in Year 1, and the second was in last year’s bubble battle against Chicago (also a first-round series). Though the stakes are higher in this third-round matchup, the Knights are hoping to add Montreal to the list.
Here’s what to watch for:
Early bird special
Vegas needs to come out with a lot more energy at the start of the first period. The Knights had trouble with this during the season and especially in the first round against Minnesota, but it’s not a habit Vegas can afford to revisit.
Fleury mishandled the puck and gave up a good scoring opportunity in the first 20 seconds of the game, and Jonathan Marchessault took an unnecessary and undisciplined penalty just 2:38 in. The league-best penalty kill held Montreal without a shot, but both plays demonstrated an overall lack of focus.
Montreal’s numbers back that up.
In the first period, the Canadiens held just a 17-15 edge in Corsi at 5-on-5 but managed a 68.75 percent shot share (11-5), 73.33 percent scoring chance share (11-4), 87.5 percent high-danger Corsi share (7-1) and 85.47 percent expected goal share with a whopping 1.65 expected goals at 5-on-5 compared to Vegas’ 0.28.
The fact that the Knights came away with a 1-0 lead is a testament to Fleury’s play.
This is especially true since the first period has been Montreal’s best in the postseason. The Canadiens’ offense has been fairly consistent overall, but the team’s goal differential is plus-7 in the first and a combined minus-9 in the second and third.
The Knights, by contrast, have been significantly better in the second and third periods. The second period has turned many games for the Knights this postseason, and the team has a plus-9 goal differential in both the second (20-11) and third (15-6) periods.
But Theodore’s goal was significant.
Not only because Theodore has been in quite a dry spell during the postseason, but also because scoring first has been a clear factor in Montreal’s games thus far.
Including Game 1, Montreal is now 0-3 when giving up the first goal.
That’s not something that can be said about the Knights. In fact, Vegas has scored first in just five out of 14 games.
But the first goal has been critical throughout Montreal’s postseason run; the Habs are 8-1 when scoring first.
If Vegas can withstand the initial push and somehow get the first goal, that could go a long way towards coming away with another win.
The Price is right
Fortunately for the Knights, the price was right in Game 1, as Carey Price turned in a mediocre performance.
He had been stellar during the team’s previous seven-game winning streak, helping Montreal overcome a 3-1 series deficit against Toronto and holding Winnipeg to just six goals in a four-game sweep.
He entered Game 1 against Vegas with a 1.97 goals-against average and .935 save percentage; he left with a 2.15 goals-against average and .929 save percentage after giving up four goals on 30 shots for an .867 save percentage.
Though the Knights were dominant, they didn’t exactly bombard him. But even if they don’t generate the volume, variety could be key. Price gave up one high-danger goal, two medium-danger goals and one low-danger goal, all of which came at 5-on-5.
Part of that is because Vegas forced Price to move laterally.
In one instance in the second period, Price was able to get over and stop a Marchessault one-timer in remarkable fashion.
But Vegas did an excellent job drawing him out of position, and the Knights were able to capitalize on his hesitation twice.
The first was on Alec Martinez’s goal after Theodore’s fake fooled Price. The second was on Nick Holden’s goal in the third period. The goal came after a fantastic shift by the second line, and it featured a crisp cross-ice feed from William Karlsson to the streaking Holden. However, Price didn’t come close to reacting in time, and Holden scored on a wide-open net.
Holdy & a goodie#VegasBorn | @Raising_Canes pic.twitter.com/j5HqZ9RW3C— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) June 15, 2021
The Knights need to continue to force Price to move laterally, and they must take away his vision.
Vegas should be going to the net on every shift. The Knights did so occasionally in Game 1, and it paid off several times. Mark Stone set a critical screen for the Theodore goal, and Mattias Janmark went hard to the net and was ready to tap in Alex Tuch’s pass. Even if the puck took a fortuitous bounce, Janmark was still in perfect position with his stick in the crease, and it proved to be a critical goal and moment in the game.
Cole Caufield had just pulled Montreal within one, but less than a minute later, Janmark went to the net and helped Vegas grab a two-goal lead once again.
Going to the net has to be a mindset, not a fluke, for the Knights tonight.
You’re the top
Theodore finally got his first of the postseason. He has just one goal and eight points in 14 games in the playoffs but managed 19 in 20 games last year, and the Knights could definitely use their most productive defenseman to start chipping in more regularly.
Theodore’s tally in Monday’s contest was the first of three goals scored by defensemen (Martinez, Holden), making the Knights the first team this postseason to get goals from three defensemen in the same game.
Vegas needs that level of secondary scoring from throughout the lineup, especially if the Knights’ top line is going to be tied up.
The Chandler Stephenson line has had its hands full for a while now. Charged with slowing down Nathan MacKinnon and Co., Vegas’ top-line trio had a strenuous but effective series against Colorado. After Game 1, it appears as though the Canadiens could present some problems as well.
In fact, in 10:01 of ice time, the Stephenson line finished Game 1 with a 32 percent Corsi share (17-8), 31.25 percent shot share (11-5), 25.14 percent expected goal share (0.68-0.23) and a 28.57 percent high-danger Corsi share (5-2).
At the end of the day, the Knights’ top line held the all-important edge in goals for (1-0), though the Habs line featuring Nick Suzuki, Tyler Toffoli and Caufield maintained control all night.
The numbers are somewhat skewed since that line generated four shots on goal in the final few minutes of regulation, but there’s no denying that it was a threatening force when it was on the ice, and it’s something Vegas will have to contain.
Pete DeBoer can take advantage of that matchup on home ice, especially since the second line has performed so well and was responsible for two out of Vegas’ four goals in the game. The third line also chipped in on the scoresheet as Nicolas Roy had one of his better games as a Golden Knight.
The Knights need more discipline and will need another stellar performance from Fleury, but if the Knights play the way they did in Game 1 and get in Price’s face, they have a good chance to come out on top in Game 2.
How to watch
Time: 6 p.m.
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM