MONTREAL – The Canadiens were pleased with how a lot things went Sunday.
They were shot out of a cannon early, dominated much of the play and carried a 1-0 lead midway through the third period.
Montreal also could look back at an inability to bury a heavily favoured opponent teetering on the ropes as a huge missed opportunity.
Nicolas Roy scored at 1:18 of overtime and Robin Lehner made 27 saves — including a massive stop on Canadiens rookie sniper Cole Caufield with 13 minutes left in regulation and Vegas down a goal — in the Golden Knights’ 2-1 victory that evened their Stanley Cup semifinal 2-2.
“I feel bad for the players,” Montreal stand-in coach Luke Richardson said with bench boss Dominique Ducharme still sidelined by a positive COVID-19 test. “They put a lot of effort in, really played the right way, played real hard.
“Just couldn’t capitalize.”
A product of Amos, Que., Roy gently roofed his own rebound from in tight on a scramble after Carey Price stopped former Montreal captain Max Pacioretty’s initial shot in the extra period.
“That was unbelievable,” Roy said following his fourth goal of the playoffs. “I got my family in here. I know they were really happy.”
The emotions down the hall were decidedly different.
“It sucks as a player to put that much effort in and you come out on the losing end,” Richardson added. “But you have to park it.”
Starting in place of Marc-Andre Fleury following his disastrous miscue that gifted the Canadiens a late equalizer in Friday’s 3-2 OT loss, Lehner said he used social media criticism of the move to him by head coach Pete DeBoer as fuel.
“I sat for two hours and watched you guys talk s— on Twitter (about) me,” the netminder told reporters after picking up his first victory since May 7. “I don’t care what people think.”
Brayden McNabb had the other goal for Vegas, which will host Game 5 on Tuesday. Game 6 goes Thursday back in Montreal, while Game 7, if necessary, will be played Saturday in Sin City.
Paul Byron replied for the Canadiens, who got 19 saves from Price.
“Could have went either way,” Byron said. “They get the goal in overtime. That’s the way it is.”
The winner of Montreal-Vegas will meet either the Tampa Bay Lightning or the New York Islanders in the Cup final. That series is also tied 2-2.
“A lot has to be said about Robin’s attitude,” said Pacioretty, who silenced the boos coming his way every time he touches the puck at the Bell Centre. “He’s been the No. 1 cheerleader on the team when he wasn’t playing.
“His positivity has rubbed off on us … just so happy to see a guy like that get rewarded.”
With the score knotted 0-0 late in the second period and Montreal having just killed off the game’s first power play, Byron took a pass from Nick Suzuki and moved in alone on Lehner before roofing his third with 65 seconds left on the clock to send the 3,500 fans at the Bell Centre into a frenzy.
There wasn’t much happening prior to that effort from Byron, who was on waivers three times this season, as the crowd got increasingly frustrated with the officiating.
“We’ve just gotta focus on the game,” Montreal defenceman Joel Edmundson said. “The refs will call what they see.”
Pacioretty forced a big save out of Price on that power play before Alex Pietrangelo, looking for his fourth goal in three games, rang a shot off the post.
Suzuki then exited the box and fed Byron for Montreal’s breakthrough.
But Lehner kept his team in the fight in the final period by stopping Caufield with the Bell Centre again poised to explode.
“It’s a world-class player,” Lehner said. “In the pre-scout, he either goes high or he goes five-hole. It looked like he was going five-hole.”
Vegas got its sixth goal from a defenceman in the series — the Golden Knights have eight in total — to tie it at 10:37 when McNabb pinched down and fired a shot that somehow squeezed past Price to set the stage for another OT.
“We can take a lot of positives,” said Montreal winger Josh Anderson, whose team dropped to 4-1 in overtime games in these playoffs, while Vegas improved to 2-3. “We had some key chances to get the job done.”
The Canadiens remained without Ducharme after his positive test Friday. Richardson, who picked up his first NHL victory in Game 3, was again calling the shots with the support of fellow assistants Alexandre Burrows and Sean Burke.
The Golden Knights also have a COVID-19 issue of their own after it was revealed a few hours before Game 4 general manager Kelly McCrimmon is self-isolating following a positive test.
Fleury had started 15 of 16 games in these playoffs for Vegas coming into Sunday — Lehner got the call in a 7-1 drubbing by the Colorado Avalanche to open the second round — putting up a .921 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average.
But the 36-year-old Vezina Trophy finalist turned the puck over with less than two minutes left in Friday’s third period and his team cruising to a 2-1 series lead to Anderson, who promptly scored into the unguarded cage to force OT.
Anderson then won it in the extra period on a 2-on-0 rush off a Byron feed with the Golden Knights caught on a bad change.
Vegas, which finished second in the regular-season standings, 23 points ahead of 18th-ranked Montreal, dominated the opening 40 minutes of Game 3, outshooting the Canadiens 30-8, before the wheels fell off following Fleury’s gaffe.
Thoroughly dominated in Friday’s opening period, the Canadiens matched their excellent starts in the first two games of the series early Sunday, forcing Lehner into a couple terrific saves.
“He’s a competitor,” said Richardson, who coached the Vegas netminder with AHL’s Binghamton Senators. “He did a tremendous job for them to give them some life and stability.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to make a change and shake things up, and he definitely rose to the occasion.”
Montreal winger Corey Perry — sporting a stitched-up gash on his face after taking an uncalled overtime high stick 48 hours earlier — slid a pass across to Eric Staal as he was being hauled down, but Lehner stretched to make a left-pad stop before denying Joel Armia with his glove on the goal line.
“Back to business,” Richardson said of his team’s mentality before getting on a plane Monday.
“It’s part of the job. We’re playing well.”
They also might rue a glorious opportunity missed.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2021.
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