The semi-finals of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs have finally arrived. With the Montréal Canadiens coming off a sweep of the Winnipeg Jets, their semi-final opponents have finally been determined. The Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 on June 10th, securing their place in the semis. With Game 1 of this series beginning on Monday, June 14th, let’s take a look at a few key components to this highly anticipated matchup between these two teams.

Let’s start with the Montréal Canadiens.

Having come off a sweep of the Jets in their last series, the Habs have had four days off thus far, with having had an entire week off before Game 1 of the semi-finals. With the opportunity to regroup and hit the practice ice, the Canadiens are looking to continue their momentous playoff-run so far. This included a visit from franchise great Bob Gainey, who offered the team some advice on staying motivated and keeping up momentum after coming off a sweep with an extended rest afterward. This meeting was set up by GM Marc Bergevin and HC Dominique Ducharme at a recent practice skate. With many Habs players not having been in this situation before in their careers, having a player like Gainey who had won five Stanley Cups with the Canadiens during his 16-year playing career, really helps the team get comfortable in unknown territory.

The Canadiens have had the luxury of players like Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki flourish and expand their game with each playoff game gone by, which have helped propel them to where they’re at now. The OT winner that eliminated the Winnipeg Jets was an absolute beauty of a shot from Toffoli, who got himself open and wired the goal short side passed Hellebuyck. Toffoli has four goals and six assists in 11 games played this postseason, proving to fans why he was the Habs number 1 offseason acquisition. That overtime play wouldn’t have been possible without the play of Suzuki and the Canadiens diamond in the rough: Cole Caufield. From having less than five shots from his first three playoff games to producing five or more shots per game and now having four assists in his 9 games played in these playoffs, Caufield’s eye for offence is evident and lively.

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Cole Caufield and Tyler Toffoli

Of course, you can’t forget about the play of Carey Price who has stolen the show for the Habs to this point as well. Boasting a 1.97 GAA and .935 SV%, Montréal’s top goalie is showcasing his abilities and putting his $10.5M/year contract where his mouth is. Price is on the third year of his eight-year extension.

Speaking of hot goalies, let’s talk about the opponents of the Canadiens, the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights are coming off four-straight wins against the Colorado Avalanche, after starting off the series against them 0-2. They got beat up in their first game 7-1 and lost in overtime in Game 2 before storming back to win four in a row to eliminate the Avalanche in Game 6. With only the weekend off to prepare for their upcoming series, the Golden Knights are poised to continue with their strong play.

You can’t talk about Vegas’ offence without mentioning the likes of Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone, the top two goalscorers for the Golden Knights thus far into the playoffs. With having scored six and five goals respectively, the pair are tearing it up and providing plenty of offensive support for their team. They can also credit the signing of Alex Pietrangelo with providing a spark to the offence, as the defenceman has seven assists and one goal in 13 games played this postseason. He basically averaged a point every second game during the regular season, putting up 23 points in 41 games played. If the offence can stay hot and continue to produce an average of three goals per game, the team is in a really good place to perform well against the Habs.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – FEBRUARY 11: Alex Pietrangelo #7 of the Vegas Golden Knights. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

When it comes to the back-end of the team, the tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner is a dynamic and effective one for the Golden Knights. Fleury is having an outstanding run this playoffs, edging out Price for second in GAA with 1.91 but sits only 9th overall in SV% with .923. Along with those impressive numbers, Fleury is tied with Carey Price (MTL) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL) with eight wins during these playoffs. The battle between both Fleury and Price is going to be one of the most talked about matchups of these playoffs, especially while both goalies are playing some of the best hockey of their careers.

Prediction: Vegas in 6.

Despite the Montréal Canadiens recent playoff success giving them a large momentum boost going into this series, it’s the Vegas Golden Knights who carry a slight advantage over the Habs. Given Vegas’ previous playoff experience; primarily with the group they have now, albeit some additions, the team itself is stronger and more experienced than that of their Canadian counterparts. Yes, the goaltending matchup is essential even, in fact the advantage is probably in Price’s favour. Don’t expect too many high-scoring games unless one of these two teams implodes sometime during this series. Overall, I think the leadership group that the Golden Knights have also outweighs that of the Habs.

One small advantage that one particular Golden Knight will have is that they used to be the captain of the team he is facing. That’s right, Max Pacioretty is going to be facing off against the team he once captained, while only one of the pieces of the trade that went back to Montréal will be (consistently) in the lineup. This could create an advantage when it comes to tips and tricks on how to beat the Canadiens’ goaltender, which could then shift the offensive outlook of this series. Habs forward Nick Suzuki will be looking to make an impact and impress the organization that traded him away in the Pacioretty deal from 2018. So all in all, this semi-final matchup contains all sorts of storylines and narratives that will only grow as the series progresses.

Puck drop on Game 1 between the Montréal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights gets underway on Monday, June 14th at 9:00pm EST.

Andrew Stuetz


1 Comment

  • lauren
    December 13, 2021 at 4:53 pm

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