The last times the Vegas Golden Knights played north of the border, they outshot a gritty, underdog opponent and got beat by a hot goaltender.
The next game they play in Canada presents a similar challenge against Carey Price and the largely no-name Montreal Canadiens. After losing Game 2 to give up home-ice advantage in the semifinal series, the pressure is on heavily favored Vegas to adjust to the Canadiens’ suffocating style for Games 3 and 4 in Montreal.
“You don’t get to the final four without knowing this is going to be a battle,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “We know this wasn’t going to be easy. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their team. They’ve beaten two very good hockey teams to get here and won a lot of games. … We’ll look to go into Montreal and win a game.”
The first chance comes Friday night with 3,500 expected to be in attendance at Bell Centre, a far cry from the nearly 18,000 on hand in Las Vegas for Game 2 but the Canadiens will take the home ice gladly with the series edge hanging in the balance.
“We’re in a good position, but there’s lot of work to do still,” Montreal interim coach Dominique Ducharme said Thursday. “That said, we’re going home and it’s good to have some more people in the Bell Centre.”
The Golden Knights’ focus is on Price, who along with captain Shea Weber and the defenders in front of him thrive when playing with a lead. The Canadiens are 9-1 this postseason when scoring first.
Much like Toronto and Winnipeg before them, Vegas players finally understand what it’s like to try to come from behind against Montreal. It’s not fun.
“Chasing the game is not an easy task against anybody,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said. “These guys play a good team game when they get the lead.”
Scoring first would go a long way to solving that problem. Montreal is 0-3 in the playoffs when allowing the first goal.
Absent that, Vegas needs to figure out how to better handle clawing back against the Canadiens.
“They protect the middle of the ice really well, especially in front of their net,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who scored the Golden Knights’ two goals in Game 2. “It’s just a matter of us finding holes there and taking a look at how we can find a way to expose that.”
The Golden Knights’ center depth was exposed in Game 2 with Chandler Stephenson a surprise scratch with an upper-body injury. DeBoer said Stephenson, who centers the top line between Max Pacioretty and Stone, is day to day, and it wasn’t clear Thursday if the 27-year-old traveled to Montreal.
“A big loss,” Stone said. “He’s been our top centerman all year. You don’t replace him.”
Filling in for Stephenson was rookie Keegan Kolesar’s job Wednesday night. Stone said he expects Kolesar “to do a good job going forward in the series,” which doesn’t seem to be a good indicator of Stephenson’s status.
With or without Stephenson, the Golden Knights would love to crack Price on the power play after going 0 for 6 through two games. Much of that is Montreal, which has killed 21 consecutive penalties.
“I don’t think it’s an accident their penalty has been good, as Carey Price’s game has been really good,” DeBoer said. “Your goalie is always your best penalty killer. We’ve got to keep working on it.”