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The Habs needed Carey Price to be their best player, and he was – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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There’s a reason why many of Carey Price’s peers consider him to be among the best, if not the best, in the game. Saturday night’s victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins may go down as a textbook reason why.

Perhaps you didn’t see it coming, but the Montreal Canadiens were victorious in the opening game of their play-in series against the Penguins Saturday night, thanks in large part to their starting goaltender who made 39 saves on 41 shots.

Price put in arguably his best effort of the season Saturday night, which included an 18-save first period against a trigger-happy Penguins squad. Pittsburgh held a shot and possession advantage on the Habs and could have buried the seemingly outmatched Habs in the opening frame if it weren’t for the $10-million-dollar man.

Considering how the season has gone, some fans wouldn’t have been surprised, and were likely already resigned, to their “Pens in 3” predictions. This is the same Habs team that lost all its games to the league-worst Detroit Red Wings, after all. But despite Pittsburgh’s early dominance, it wasn’t to be.

“Carey was huge and gave us a chance to come back and adjust ourselves,” Habs head coach Claude Julien said post-game. “The first period is where he allowed us to stay in the game.”

Price held the fort in the first period just long enough to let the Canadiens score on the team’s third shot (it won’t be Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s prettiest goal, but it counted). The video above features two of Evgeni Malkin’s eight shots on goal, and the Russian couldn’t get any past a netminder who turns 33 in two weeks’ time.

Here’s another stop on Malkin, just for good measure.

This isn’t to pick on the Russian superstar, but the Canadiens have their hands full with Sidney Crosby enough as it is. Needless to say (but why not let it be said?), Price stymying Malkin on numerous occasions played a huge role in the victory.

Price did allow two goals in the contest, including one from Crosby. Both of them came in the second period and the Penguins erased a 2-0 advantage. The two goals, however, could be blamed more on defensive miscues than Price’s ineptitude.

More importantly, the goaltender continued to look steady in the net the whole way through. He and his defence were able to kill penalties, with their opponents only able to muster one goal on seven chances with an extra man.

The B.C. native also came up huge in the third period when tasked with stopping Conor Sheary on a breakaway that was soon followed up by a penalty shot.

Sheary couldn’t even hit the net on the ensuing penalty shot, seeing nothing but blocker where he was looking to shoot, which only made Price’s night easier. Of course, Price could breathe a sigh of relief once Jeff Petry’s overtime winner beat Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray and secured a series-opening victory.

If Montreal wants to finish the job against the Pittsburgh, similarly to their last playoff meeting a decade ago, goaltending will have to make the difference.

For one night, at least, Price showed he was the better goalie and proved the peers who’ve voted for him in players’ association polls many a time right.

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In the Habs Room: 'I heard it hit the crossbar,' Nick Suzuki says of last-minute shot – Montreal Gazette

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The Canadiens went 0-for-12 on the power play during their qualifying-round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, so Weber’s goal could provide an important confidence boost for the team going forward.

“That is big, obviously, for the power play,” said Weber, who now has a team-leading three goals and five points in the five postseason games. “Hopefully that can build some momentum and we’ve been so good five-on-five already that we’d like to keep that up.

“But I think you always talk about big shifts after scoring a goal, last minute of a period, first minute of a period,” Weber added about Farabee’s goal. “Those are kind of the key moments. Definitely a little bit of a letdown there, but I still thought we responded well and even after that I still thought we had a pretty good second period, minus that.”

Midway through the third period, Canadiens coach Claude Julien juggled his lines, moving Max Domi up from the fourth-line centre role he played against the Penguins, putting him at right wing on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi at centre and Jonathan Drouin on left wing. The move almost paid off with less than two minutes left when Domi just missed setting up Kotkaniemi from behind the net for a great scoring chance in the slot. It looked like Kotkaniemi might not have been ready for the pass.

For Canadiens fans who were shaking their heads watching Domi play on the fourth line, their reaction to the move was probably: About time!

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5 Things: Flyers vs. Canadiens Game 1 – NHL.com

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#1 – Philadelphia Flyers (41-27-9, 89pts)
vs.
#8 – Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71pts)
at Scotiabank Arena | Toronto, Ontario
ROUND 1 – GAME 1: Series tied 0-0
TIME: 8:00 p.m. |  TV: NBCSP |  RADIO: 93.3 WMMR
Presented by: BELFOR PROPERTY RESTORATION

GAME NOTES
 
QUICK STATS
Season Series: 2-1-0
Playoff All-Time Record:
Series: 6 Series (3 wins, 3 losses)
Games: 31gp (15-16)
Leading Scorer:
PHI – Travis Konecny (24g-37a): 61 pts
MTL – Tomas Tatar (22g-39a): 61-pts

1. THE FLYERS BUBBLE…

The Flyers are one of only two teams to have won all four games they have played since entering the bubble (Vegas)… They did not trail at any point and outscored their opponent by a 14-5 margin… In the three-game Round Robin the Flyers did not allow a goal in the opening period and allowed just ONE goal in the third period (T-1st in NHL) against all three teams above them in the regular season standings… The Flyers also received scoring from eight different players, none of which were the Top 5 goal scorers of their regular season… Scott Laughton led the Flyers and was the only Flyer to score in all four games of the Return to Play, posting six points (4g-2a).
 
2. THE CANADIENS BUBBLE…

The Canadiens enter the First Round having already gone through a playoff series with a 3-1 series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins… In that series, the Habs defense recorded a total of 10 points (4g-6a) in the four games, which accounted for 40% of their offense… All 10 of their goals were scored at even strength… D-man and team captain, Shea Weber, led the team in scoring with four points (2g-2a) in the four-game series… Montreal scored the first goal in all three of their wins and dropped their only game when allowing the first goal… The Habs led all teams in the Qualifier & Round Robin for the most hits (171), which was a full 25 more hits than the next closest team, and ranked 4th with the most blocked shots (73).
 
3. RANDOM ONES

Per the NHL, the team that wins the Game 1 of a best-of-seven series goes on to win the series 478 of 697 times (68.6%)… The Flyers have an all-time record of 32-39 in Game 1’s and have won 23 of 32 series when winning Game 1, and have lost 24 of 39 series when losing Game 1… They have dropped six of their last eight Game 1’s, including their last three… Both teams failed to score on the power play in the Round Robin or Qualifier Series with the Flyers going 0-for-11 and Canadiens going 0-for-12… The defense pairing of Philippe Myers (+6) and Travis Sanheim (+5) combined for a +11 rating, while the Montreal pairing of Shea Weber (+5) and Ben Chiarot (+6) also combined for a +11.
 
4. PAST & PRESENT

Since the NHL’s original expansion in 1967, the Canadiens have the most wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (266) with the Flyers ranking third (224)… This is the seventh all-time playoff meetings between these two and first since the 2010 Conference Final which the Flyers won in 5 games (4-1)… Of the six previous series, none have gone past six games and the Flyers have won three of the last four… These teams finished their season series with the Flyers winning twice, but the Habs secured a point in all three games, going 1-0-2, dropping both games in overtime… Eight different Flyers scored all eight goals and six Flyers had two points, while Tomas Tatar had three goals and five points in the three games and Phillip Danault had five assists and was a +4.
 
5. PLAYERS TO WATCH

FLYERS (G: #79 – Carter Hart)
Not including the exhibition game, Hart has won 13 of his last 16 starts dating back to Jan. 8 of the regular season, posting a 1.94 GAA and .933 save percentage with a 13-3-0 record… He went 2-0-0 in the Round Robin, allowing just two goals on 59 shots and stopped all 26 shots he faced in the third period… Hart won his only start against Montreal this year, stopping 22 of 24 shots
 
CANADIENS (G: #31 – Carey Price)
Price led the NHL for most starts in net this year (58) and was T-5th for the most wins, posting a 27-25-6 record and earned 87% of the Canadiens wins this season (27 of 31)… Price posted a 1-0-1 mark this year against the Flyers with a 1.98 GAA and .952 save percentage… Over the last five seasons, Price has posted an 8-2-2 record against the Flyers with a 2.23 GAA and .930 save percentage.

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Canucks 5, Blues 2: Stecher scores memorable winner in series opener – The Province

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Here’s what we learned as the Canucks claimed a 5-2 victory in the series opener at Rogers Place in Edmonton:

Be careful what you wish for.

From the outside, that was the advice to the Vancouver Canucks, but they obviously weren’t listening.

They made their first playoff appearance in five years on Wednesday night against the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. And if you thought a club that iced numerous first-round newbies was going to succumb to the strength and stamina of a seasoned NHL champion, you haven’t been paying attention.

Whether it was getting better with each qualifying-round victory, or youthful skill and naiveté having as much impact as playoff-starved veterans, the Canucks are hungry for more. And a 2-0-1 regular-season record against the 94-point club should accelerate that appetite in the best-of-seven series.

However, these aren’t the Blues who couldn’t create urgency with an 0-2-1 mark in the lethargic and meaningless round robin portion of the post-season for seeding purposes. Nobody was going home. Nobody was selling out on every shift.

Until now.

“They know what it’s all about,” Canucks coach Travis Green said in advance of Game 1. “There are no secrets how they play. It’s going to be a hard test and a good challenge, but I’ve said many times, when our team is challenged, you find out a lot about your group. 

“And I’ve never had a doubt because they have a lot of belief in themselves.”

Here’s what we learned as the Canucks claimed a 5-2 victory in the series opener at Rogers Place in Edmonton:



The Vancouver Canucks celebrate a goal by defenceman Troy Stecher (51) during the third period.

Sergei Belski /

USA TODAY Sports

STECHER PROVES PROPHET

Troy Stecher knows his contract status and that the Canucks have roster options next season.

It’s why the Richmond native wanted this playoff sojourn to mean so much after losing his father, Peter, on Father’s Day and knowing that his club had so much to prove.

“I’m aware of my situation and my contract is up at the end of the year,” he said before Game 1. “Who knows what is going to happen. I’m excited and want to take over and help this team win.”

And he did just that.

With the clubs locked in a 2-2 draw in the third period, Stecher let loose a slapper that beat Jordan Binnington between the arm and body. He then looked to the heavens and screamed in joy. Horvat then followed up with his second goal of the night on a bull rush, deke and stick-side snapper to close scoring.

For Stecher, the magnitude of his special moment was not lost on him or his teammates or his coach.

“It’s been tough at certain moments through this process,” Stecher said post game. “I’m thankful to be surrounded by my teammates and I had a couple of seconds to reflect on my dad. And the biggest thing was everybody showed their support on the bench instantly and motivated me to keep going.”

Elias Pettersson was the first to reach out. Stecher was already having a good night in a shutdown pairing with Alex Edler. The winning goal was a just reward for a guy who has given so much to the team.

“What he went through in the summer was devastating and I just wanted to hug him,” said the centre.

Jacob Markstrom and Zack MacEwen also lost their fathers this season, so the joy they felt for Stecher was obvious.

“Very emotional for him,” said Markstrom. “I know what he’s going through and it’s not easy. For him to show that kind of emotion, I was just so happy he got it (goal). I gave him a big hug after the game and to be rewarded with a goal in a big game with everything he has been going through is huge.”



Jacob Markstrom makes a second period save on Ryan O’Reilly.

Jeff Vinnick /

Getty Images

MARKSTROM’S REST BEST

Two days off and two days of practice and video worked wonders for Markstrom.

He was sharp early and often and the starter had to be. The Blues kept coming, kept putting pucks through traffic and crowded his crease extra whacks after saves. And they studied video.

Zach Sanford tested the short side early before Markstrom made back-to-back saves off Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly, who tried to go 5-hole and score from the side respectively.

The Blues finally got to him when David Perron, who now has a dozen career goals against the Canucks, found a small opening on the glove side with a half-slapper slot effort on the power play. Jaden Schwartz then sped away on a breakaway — after Chris Tanev tried to play the puck at the opposition blue-line and then fell — before tucking a puck between the goalie’s pads on a deke.

Markstrom made a spectacular late left-toe save in which the puck was heading to the goalline but didn’t cross it as the Canucks clung to a 4-2 advantage.

“They kind of threw it in far side and they probably shot it for a rebound and I tried to kick it out and it hit Eagle (Edler) in the leg and back to the net,” recalled Markstrom, who finished with 29 saves. “It was kind of a desperation save and it went right to O’Reilly and we were quick to get a stick and he missed the net.

“They had a lot of pressure at the end and we were sacrificing a lot and blocking shots.”



Elias Pettersson celebrates his power-play goal against the St. Louis Blues at 8:37 of the second period and is grabbed by Brock Boeser.

Jeff Vinnick /

Getty Images

POWER IN THEIR PLAY

The Canucks went 1-for-12 with the man advantage in the season series — a 5-on-3 — and managed 13 shots.

In their playoff opener, there were better entries, better passing and a few new wrinkles in striking three times on the power play. Horvat worked the bumper position to perfection to open scoring and found open ice to take a feed from Quinn Hughes in the slot and whip a shot home.

The Canucks struck again in the second period when Pettersson, who was playing down low on the first advantage, got to his sweet shooting spot on a rotation and whipped a shot high glove side while falling backward. J.T Miller scored the third late in the third period.

As for Horvat, the captain has taken his game to another level. His stride is stronger, his finish is better and his determination has never been higher — as he demonstrated on his bull-rush goal. He finished with four shots and six attempts and won 54 per cent of his draws.

“You need everybody to win, but you especially need the power play to produce in the playoffs and we’ve done a great job spreading the scoring around,” said Horvat. “Guys are stepping up at key times and you want to get up for the big games and be a difference-maker. Playing the Stanley Cup champs is easy to get up for and these are the moments you want to be in.”

Especially when the power play is clicking.

“All five of us are confident,” said Pettersson. “We practise it a lot and it’s a good weapon to have. It’s going to win us games.”

“The chemistry just continues to grow,” added Hughes. “We’re at a point where we all have our one, two or three plays and guys can react to what is going to happen. Guys are hungry to score and we’ve been dialled in.”

So has the captain. Whether at even strength, the power play or in a match-up situation, his elevated game was lauded by Green.

“He was a horse tonight and kind of found his game,” said Green. “He looks like he has the jump back and is strong on the puck and does a lot of things that a team needs to win. He’s playing at his best when he has that 200-foot game. And when his skating is going, he’s phenomenal and players go through that where they’re feeling really good on the ice.”

“He’s fast, confident and strong.”



Zack MacEwen checks Vince Dunn in Game One of the Western Conference First Round.

Jeff Vinnick /

Getty Images

THE MILLER MYSTERY

J.T. Miller didn’t take the warm-up as Adam Gaudette took line rushes with Pettersson and Brock Boeser but was then a late addition to the lineup at bottom of the roster card. He didn’t look quite right at the bench to start the game.

Whether the winger is a little dinged up or was sick, he proved fit enough to play with a strong first period. The club’s leading scorer started the passing sequence on the opening goal, won four of six faceoffs and logged the most minutes of any Canucks forward at 7:33. As for his absence in the warm-up, Green didn’t share much.

“I’m not going to go into detail,” he said. “He couldn’t get out for warm-up and obviously played the game, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.”



Bo Horvat (3rd from left) celebrates his power-play goal at 4:29 of the first period against the St. Louis Blues in Game One.

Jeff Vinnick /

Getty Images

HUGHES IS TARGET

First is was Troy Brouwer mugging Hughes and then it was Perron.

The Calder Trophy finalist started getting extra attention in the second half of this shortened season and had to channel his anger. He learned that hacks and whacks come with the territory and as a dominant rookie who attacks, spins, shoots and drives the opposition crazy, the best revenge Wednesday was playing even better.

“You’ve got to be mentally tough — it’s a physical sport,” said Hughes, who logged 21:28 and had an assist, two shots and five attempts. “Honestly, it’s kind of an honour that they’re going to key on me and that’s how I take it. I know I have teammates who have my back. I just have to play my game to the best of my ability.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com

twitter.com/benkuzma


NEXT GAME

Friday | Game 2

Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues

3:30 p.m., Rogers Place (Edmonton), TV: CBC, Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM

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