MONTREAL – Corey Perry has seen plenty throughout his 16 NHL seasons and 160 playoff games.
Exhilarating victories. Crushing defeats.
Contests his team should have won and didn’t. And vice-versa.
So the 36-year-old’s message to his Canadiens in the wake of a disappointing Game 4 result in their Stanley Cup semifinal against the Vegas Golden Knights — a 2-1 overtime loss where Montreal dominated long stretches, but was unable capitalize on enough of its chances — was straightforward and simple.
Turn the page.
“Put it behind you,” the 36-year-old winger said in the wake of Sunday night’s setback. “Just move forward, think about the positives.”
That could be difficult.
Montreal put in its best showing of the series, taking it to Vegas from the opening faceoff and continuing for long stretches.
According to hockey analytics website www.naturalstattrick.com, the Canadiens held an 18-0 edge in high-danger scoring chances — grade-A opportunities from the slot — before the Golden Knights buried their only effort from the same area in the extra period.
“We played a good game,” Montreal defenceman Joel Edmundson said. “Just need to find a way to score more goals.”
The Canadiens couldn’t find the range on Robin Lehner, who replaced Marc-André Fleury in the Golden Knights’ crease following Fleury’s disastrous giveaway in Game 3 that led to the tying goal and paved the way for Montreal’s 3-2 OT triumph.
While it wasn’t a must-win for the Golden Knights on Sunday at the Bell Centre, there’s a massive difference between heading back to Vegas for Tuesday’s Game 5 with home-ice advantage tied 2-2 instead of being down 3-1.
“A huge swing game, but it’s only a swing game if we take advantage of it,” Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer said Monday morning. “It’s a two-out-of-three now with two of the games in our building.
“We have to take advantage.”
Vegas winger Jonathan Marchessault said Sunday felt like Game 3 of his team’s second-round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche, when the Golden Knights were trailing 2-0 in the series and 2-1 in the third period before pushing back.
“Those two wins are unbelievable,” he said. “They were huge.
“We gotta carry some momentum … and keep going.”
The Canadiens didn’t have the same feeling as they boarded a plane to Sin City, but they’ll want to duplicate their showing — save for the result.
“Continue to look at that and the way we played at the start of the game,” Perry said. “That’s our style of play where we’re quick, we’re on pucks, we’re on top.
“If we keep doing that, we’re just gonna keep wearing them down.”
Lehner got his second start of the playoffs and didn’t disappoint with a 27-save showing in Game 4. But what’s stood out to his teammates long-term is the relationship he has with Fleury, his competition for playing time.
“There’s obviously difficult decisions that are being made,” Golden Knights defenceman Alex Pietrangelo said Monday. “But to see the camaraderie between these two guys, the way they help each other throughout games, in between games, it’s pretty impressive.
“When you have two guys who’ve played as No. 1 guys, it’s certainly finding that balance, and they have. That relationship is just as good on the ice as it is off the ice.”
A SPARK UP FRONT
The heavily favoured Golden Knights — 23 points better than the Canadiens in the regular season — are tied 2-2 in the third round without getting a single goal from a top-6 forward group that includes Marchessault, Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith.
The Vegas defence corps has scored seven of the team’s 10 goals, while centre Nicolas Roy, the OT hero in Game 4, has two.
The Golden Knights have been without No. 1 centre Chandler Stephenson since he suffered an upper-body injury in the series opener, but the big guns know they need to help with the offence against Carey Price.
“It’s not good enough,” Marchessault. “We’re facing an unbelievable goalie, but that’s no excuse. It’s the same thing last year (in the playoffs) against Vancouver, Dallas.
“We need a solution ASAP.”
Debating calls made and not made in the playoffs is an annual exercise in the NHL. The standard of what referees believe is a penalty often changes in the post-season, but all players and fans want is a consistent standard.
Officiating has been under the intense scrutiny in the third round, and nowhere more so with Montreal-Vegas, where punches, cross-checks and even a blatant high-stick to the face have been either uncalled or missed.
“It’s different from regular season to playoffs,” Marchessault said of the standard. “The refs are letting a little more stuff go. Obviously, both sides will be disappointed with some calls.”
Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry said the players have to focus on what they can control — not what the ref does or doesn’t call or see.
“(The officiating) is a little bit more lax so you have the ability to make it hard for guys,” he said. “It’s just a matter of playing our game and not wasting our energy on worrying about what’s going to be called and what’s not.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2021.
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