The Vegas Golden Knights’ season is over.
After suffering a 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal Thursday night at Bell Centre, the Knights have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs after losing the series 4-2.
For the second year in a row, Vegas fell short of the ultimate goal, losing in the third round.
Vegas fought back to erase two one-goal deficits, but Artturi Lehkonen scored the game-winner 1:39 into overtime to send the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final.
Game 6 was one of Vegas’ better games of the series, but it wasn’t enough to force a Game 7, and it was too little too late for a Knights team that failed to adjust early on.
Robin Lehner was back in the crease for Vegas, making his second start in three games.
The first period was a mixed bag for Vegas, though it was a marked improvement over the Knights’ recent starts.
Part of that was due to the Knights being more decisive with the puck. However, Vegas committed 11 giveaways and took two undisciplined penalties, including one just 1:56 into the contest.
The Vegas penalty kill appeared to return to form, holding the Canadiens to one shot on the first opportunity and seemingly on its way to shutting down the second. However, a broken stick led to a failed clear by Alec Martinez, setting up a power-play blast by Shea Weber to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead at 14:06 of the frame.
Although Weber’s first goal of the postseason was an unassisted tally, Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s moving screen in front of Lehner prevented the Vegas netminder from tracking the shot.
The Golden Knights responded promptly.
Just 48 seconds later, a strong effort in the offensive zone led to a great tap-in goal to even things up at 1-1.
William Karlsson won a battle along the boards, allowing Reilly Smith to retrieve the puck and feed it to Shea Theodore at the point. Theodore sent a no-look pass to the side of the net, where Smith deflected it into the cage behind the outstretched Carey Price.
It was the second line’s first goal of the series and Smith’s first since Game 2 against Colorado.
Nicolas Hague was noticeable for Vegas as he made his return to the lineup, making several key plays in the opening period to contain Montreal. After Zach Whitecloud wiped out, Hague got back and negated a fantastic scoring opportunity for Josh Anderson. Later in the same shift, Hague made a strong stand-up block on a shot in the slot, making his presence felt early.
Both teams combined for just one 5-on-5 high-danger chance in the first, but things opened up a bit in the second.
The Knights held an 8-3 edge in scoring chances, but it was Montreal that won the period in the end.
Cole Caufield was the difference in the frame, making an extraordinary play to give the Canadiens their second lead of the night.
He flipped the puck over Brayden McNabb’s stick as he skated around the Vegas defenseman before roofing the puck short-side, beating Lehner high-glove.
SMALL GOAL BOY!— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) June 25, 2021
Cole Caufield cannot be stopped! pic.twitter.com/QLi4AMWPUB
Vegas relied primarily on the efforts of the Misfits Line, which continued to generate chances and was the team’s best line (by a mile) all night. Smith and Karlsson were the Knights’ best players, but both were shut down by Price. Karlsson’s one-timer bid was an especially clutch save by the veteran netminder.
The Knights had two power plays in the period, but it was four more minutes of painful hockey as the Knights extended their streak to 18 straight without a goal. Vegas gave Montreal another power play as well; it was yet another careless penalty, this time for too many men, but the Vegas penalty kill took care of business and limited Montreal to just one shot.
The Knights headed into the third period in need of a goal.
It took 68 seconds to get it.
Once again, it was the Karlsson line that struck.
Karlsson sent a behind-the-back pass to Alex Pietrangelo, who fired it at the net. It was a seemingly harmless shot from the point, but Price was unable to control the puck. Martinez went hard to the net and was there to jam the rebound through Price’s pads to tie the game early.
always go hard in the paint pic.twitter.com/kpkdIr7QpV— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) June 25, 2021
That would be the final goal of the season for the Golden Knights, however.
Lehner made some key stops following the equalizer, bailing out Theodore, who committed several egregious turnovers in the defensive end.
Both teams traded chances throughout the period, though the Knights’ defensemen were able to break up a number of opportunities for the Habs.
The Knights poured on the pressure down the stretch, ultimately outshooting Montreal 15-10 in the third. But they were unable to find twine, sending the game to overtime for the third time in three games played at Bell Centre this series.
The Knights had several looks early in extra time, including a prime scoring opportunity for Max Pacioretty, which was set up by Chandler Stephenson. However, Price came to the top of the crease to challenge the shot, taking the angle away and gobbling it up with no rebound.
Less than 20 seconds later, Lehkonen stunned the Knights by beating Lehner to eliminate Vegas and send the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
It was a crushing end for the Knights, who played hard and started to take over the game in the third. But a one-line effort for most of the night was not enough to overcome the solid play of Price, who had his best game of the series, stopping 37 of 39 shots, including both of Vegas’ attempts in overtime.
For the second year in a row, the Golden Knights were eliminated in the third round of the playoffs, falling several wins short of reaching the Stanley Cup.
More significantly, it was the second year in a row in which the Knights watched their offense evaporate while getting outplayed in the most meaningful games of the year.
Vegas may have been a heavy favorite coming into the series, but all four of Montreal’s lines were a threat to score, and every single player up and down the lineup worked hard on every shift.
By contrast, many of the Knights’ top players didn’t show up. Mark Stone finished the six-game series without a single point. Not only that, but the captain didn’t seem to play with emotion and failed to lead his team in any visible way on the ice.
The top six scored one goal (two if you include Pacioretty’s as part of the third line). Two goals in six games.
The Golden Knights went 0-for-15 on the power play, which had been a problem since the start of the season. By the end of this series, the Knights would have been better off declining power plays like NFL teams looking for first downs. On the power play, the Knights were hesitant, turned the puck over and looked like they had never played together, and the hesitancy was an issue at 5-on-5 as well.
The Knights were not good enough, and Pete DeBoer failed to make necessary adjustments throughout the series. Montreal played a consistent and straightforward game, but the Knights fell into the same traps all series.
Nothing should be taken away from Montreal’s effort and success; the Canadiens were hungry, hard-working and relentless, played with a ton of speed and skill and executed their system perfectly. Price made key saves and was huge in Game 6; but it was the Habs’ system and team structure that gave the Knights fits in this series.
The Knights ran out of time before they could adapt, and a once-thrilling team became difficult to watch, setting up what should be an interesting offseason for the Vegas franchise.