It seems only fitting that Montreal became the first Canadian city to host fans for an NHL game amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday night as the underdog Canadiens won their second straight overtime contest 3-2 to force a Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the top seed in the Scotia North Division.
The Bell Centre welcomed 2,500 fans, approximately 12% of capacity, for the first time in 444 days. With their team facing elimination for the second straight game, they were in full voice throughout and undoubtedly helped propel the Habs to victory. They even came together to sing the Canadian national anthem in unison prior to puck drop. It was hard not to get emotional hearing the “Go Habs Go!” and “Carey, Carey, Carey!” chants.
Carey Price Continues to Dominate
If the Canadiens find themselves with a chance to advance to the second round on Monday night, it’s largely because Carey Price has been nothing short of magnificent in the series. On Saturday, he stopped 41 of the 43 shots he faced to improve his postseason save percentage in 2020-21 to a sparkling .926.
The 33-year-old improved to 11-0 in his playoff career when his team scores three or more goals. His famously calm demeanour in the net is giving his teammates confidence, especially when the score is tight or when the Maple Leafs push back with a strong offensive outburst.
“There’s no quit in this group. Even though we’ve given up leads in the last couple of games, we grinded it out. I thought Pricey played unbelievable. He kept us in it, especially in overtime when they were pushing, and gave us a chance. Obviously, that one shot made the difference,” captain Shea Weber said after Montreal’s Game 6 victory.
Price has been unflappable through six games and always seems to make a key save when it matters most. He is frustrating Toronto’s high-scoring forwards because they almost need a perfect shot to beat him.
The Kids Come Through Again
Another reason the Canadiens have erased a 1-3 deficit is because of their new core of young forwards: Cole Caufield, Jake Evans, Jesperi Kotakniemi and Nick Suzuki. Each has had a positive impact on the series. Their poise, both with and without the puck, has been impressive and they seem to play better the bigger the occasion becomes. Expect them to leave their mark on Game 7.
Kotkaniemi and Suzuki have combined for five goals, including the two overtime winners. With three tallies so far this year, twenty-year-old Kotkaniemi already has seven career playoff goals. Meanwhile, Evans is bringing great energy to the lineup and Caufield is creating scoring chances all over the ice. It’s only a matter of time before he pots one.
But the true stars of Saturday’s game were the fans who waited so long to cheer on their team in person and who made sure they were heard in their return to the Bell Centre. Their beloved Habs responded with an inspired performance and are now on the verge of an improbable upset over their arch-rivals from Toronto.