On the biggest provincial holiday in Quebec – the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist – the Montreal Canadiens accomplished what no Canadian-based club has done since 2011: make it to the Stanley Cup Final.
On Thursday evening, the North Division champion Montreal eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights from the postseason by way of a 3-2 overtime victory. In doing so, it punched its ticket to the Stanley Cup Final, a place it has not been since winning the Cup back in 1993. After being the final team to clinch a berth in the 2021 postseason, the Canadiens became the first team to earn a place in the Stanley Cup Final.
They weren’t supposed to make it through more than four or five games of the opening round against the division-best Toronto Maple Leafs. And then it was a near unanimous decision that the Winnipeg Jets would take care of the team that just managed to sneak by the Buds. But somehow, the Habs prevailed to face Vegas in the third round.
It was at that point that fans from the United States (and even some in Canada) began speaking of the significant challenge that Montreal would face in taking on an American-based team for the first time all season. But truth be told, those comments did not seem to phase a team playing without the likes of its head coach, who remains stuck in quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test result.
Led by yet another sensational performance from the league’s very best goaltender Carey Price, a goal from rookie scoring sensation Cole Caufield and a dominant showing from the NHL’s No. 1 penalty kill all-time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Habs got the job done in 61:39 of game time on Thursday in front of 3,500 fans at the Bell Centre.
Artturi Lehkonen scored the winner just 1:39 into the first period of overtime, in what was the third game of the series that required an additional frame to find a winner. Lehkonen put his third playoff goal past Vegas’ choice netminder Robin Lehner, with Phil Danault and Brendan Gallagher each collecting their third assists of the postseason.
— NHL (@NHL) June 25, 2021
Having earned a whopping 147 individual player trophies in franchise history, the Canadiens had never won the Clarence Campbell Bowl. That was, until Thursday night.
Beginning the second period tied at ones, the Habs picked up the only goal of the middle stanza, only to see noted playoff hero Alec Martinez knot the game up at twos in the early stages of the third period. But luckily for Montreal, Price was able to shut the door on 37 of Vegas’ 39 shots on goal, sending the Golden Knights packing one round short of the Cup.
With the loss, the likes of Mark Stone (Winnipeg), Ryan Reaves (Winnipeg), Keegan Kolesar (Winnipeg), Zach Whitecloud (Sioux Valley Dakota Nation) and Cody Glass (Winnipeg) have been eliminated from playoff contention alongside their Golden Knights teammates.
In moving on to his second Cup Final in the past three seasons, defenceman Joel Edmundson (Brandon) will look to earn his second championship ring, this time with the Habs (St. Louis Blues, 2019). Also on Montreal’s roster are two former Winnipeg Jets – forward Joel Armia and defenceman Ben Chiarot – who will have their first opportunity at a Stanley Cup.
The only order of business left to discern is to whom the Canadiens will be facing in the big dance. Currently, the other semifinal series between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning is tied at three games a piece, with Game 7 going Friday night. Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final will be played on Monday night, in either New York or Tampa Bay.