Hockey is constructed of a large network of people: players, coaches, trainers, scouts, management, and families, yet many are connected through a myriad of circumstances and small relationships. Come game time, these relationships make for enticing storylines, creating extra drama and sub-plots. Former teammates in junior can find themselves squaring off in the Stanley Cup Final, players growing up cheering for one team can be drafted by historical rivals, other players can be traded only to defeat their former teams in big moments, and it goes on.
The Montreal Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights are no exception, with plenty of storylines to feast on. It is not enough that these teams are set to square off in their first Stanley Cup Playoff meeting in a season defined by the unprecedented. No, instead, there are plenty of sub-plots that have emerged and will be highlighted here.
The Obvious Examples
The most compelling connection features former Canadiens captain turned Golden Knight Max Pacioretty and budding star Nick Suzuki. Pacioretty was traded to the Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar, Suzuki, and a 2019 2nd-round pick on September 10, 2018 (that 2nd-round draft pick was later traded to the Los Angeles Kings for 3rd and 5th round picks – Mattias Norlinder and Jacob LeGuerrier).
Ultimately, the consensus on this trade is that both organizations won, although those arguments will likely change based on who wins this series. Suzuki and Pacioretty are key figures, both capable of pushing the series in their favour. Let’s not sleep on Tatar, though. He could make an appearance in this series and tilt the momentum.
Perhaps a little less flashy is the Jon Merrill connection. Merrill, who the Canadiens acquired via trade from the Detroit Red Wings on April 11, 2021, was a member of the Golden Knights for three seasons. The stay-at-home defenseman played 16 playoff games with Vegas over that span, including eight during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018. Merrill is still nursing an injury suffered in their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, he, along with other injured players Jeff Petry and Jake Evans, travelled to Vegas for Game 1, which means we could see Merrill in this series.
This series is also making headlines because the Golden Knights have more Quebec-born players on their roster than the Quebec-based Canadiens. The Canadiens have been criticized for not have enough Quebec-born players, and some hope they lose solely for this reason.
The Golden Knights have goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forwards Jonathan Marchessault, Nicholas Roy, and William Carrier, who have all expressed that this series will be particularly special to them. All four could become heroes on any given night, so don’t be surprised if you hear where they are from over and over again.
Phillip Danault is the only Quebec-born player who will likely see ice time. The roster includes Jonathan Drouin, Alex Belzile, Laurent Dauphin, and Xavier Ouellet, but we don’t yet know if any of them will crack the lineup. Drouin, however, left the team for personal reasons and will not play again this season. For the others, a swath of injuries might be their only way in. If the Canadiens win the series, the Quebec-born sub-plot might fade slightly in the media.
A Deep Cut
This connection is a tad more obscure and will likely be more relevant to the Canadiens’ future than in this semi-final series. The Canadiens’ 2nd-round draft pick in 2020 (47th overall) was power-forward Luke Tuch, younger brother of Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch. The older Tuch is a powerful and dangerous offensive player and fans should keep an eye out for him beginning Monday night. This season, he scored 18 goals and 33 points in 55 games, and he has four goals and seven points in 13 playoff games. If Luke Tuch can develop into a similar player, the Canadiens will have a good one moving forward.
Regardless of all these sub-plots, the main story here is, of course, the chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Vegas is a very good team, strong in every area, and relentless in their speed of attack. The Canadiens, who are considered the underdogs again in this postseason, will only advance on the back of strong performances from every player in every area of the game, especially in net. It should be a fun series.
Hello there, folks! My name is Stephen Michaud. Like so many in Canada, I grew up playing the game of hockey from a young age. My passion for playing spawned a yearning for following the NHL and other leagues around the world. Here at The Hockey Writers I have been tasked with covering the Montreal Canadiens, which I hope to do in a detailed and honest fashion.