The Montreal Canadiens made sure their first playoff game in three years was a memorable one. A brilliant performance from Carey Price, two big goals from a pair of 20-year-olds and an overtime snipe courtesy Jeff Petry propelled the Habs to an improbable 3-2 Game 1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not to mention the game also featured two missed penalty shots.
Here are three takeaways from an eventful night in Toronto.
Carey Price Stands Tall
It seems that everything the Canadiens needed to happen to be successful did in the opening contest of this best-of-five series, starting between the pipes with Price. The Penguins were wary of facing the 32-year-old netminder in a shortened series and he showed why. Everyone said Price had to be Montreal’s best player if they were to have any chance, and on Saturday he was.
Price made 39 saves on 41 shots and kept his team in the game all night. If it weren’t for his stops in the opening minutes of the first period, when the Canadiens were outshot 10-1, they might have been out of it from the start. Instead, they took a 2-0 lead. Pittsburgh rallied to tie it, but Price shut the door in the third period and in overtime to give Montreal a chance to win, and Petry came through with an overtime goal.
Price did exactly what he had to. His calmness and steadiness in net instilled confidence in his teammates and planted a seed of doubt in the minds of their opponents.
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“Carey was huge throughout that whole first period and gave us a chance to come back and kind of adjust ourselves there for the second. But he made some big saves throughout the whole game. The first period is where he allowed us to stay in the game and gave us a chance to win this,” head coach Claude Julien said.
The Penguins are now faced with the daunting task of beating an in-form Price in three of the next four games if they want to advance. That’s math that the Habs and their fans can get behind.
The Kids Are Alright
For the first half of the game, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal’s two 20-year-old centremen, outscored Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin 2-0.
It was a memorable playoff debut for the pair, especially Suzuki, who was his team’s best and most utilized forward. He excelled at both ends of the ice and scored his first postseason goal thanks to a perfectly placed shot off the rush that beat Matt Murray top corner.
Kotkaniemi opened the scoring when a puck deflected off him after he drove hard to the front of the net. A just reward for a player who has been impressive since day one of Phase 3 training camp. It marked the fourth time in franchise history that two players aged 20 years or younger scored in the same postseason game for the Canadiens.
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That’s another part of Montreal’s winning formula that went right for them — their young players needed to step up and they certainly delivered in game one.
Canadiens’ Penalty Kill Stymies Penguins Power Play
Another key to the Canadiens’ success was how well their defense corps could hold up against Crosby, Malkin and company. They bent but didn’t break, especially on the penalty kill.
The Penguins went 1-for-7 on the power play and failed to capitalize on several opportunities in the third period with the game tied. They were unable to score during a 5-on-3 in the final frame that lasted 1:32. With Phillip Danault in the penalty box, Suzuki was called on to kill the two-man advantage and he was once again up to the task.
“I was pretty confident going in. I had two solid defenders who were with me and we talked a lot about their power play and what we want to try to do against them. I was confident going in. It was nice to get the confidence from the coach to trust me in that situation,” Suzuki said about the assignment.
Meanwhile, after looking rather abysmal in their exhibition loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Habs’ other special teams’ unit, the power play, generated some scoring chances and helped them maintain momentum in the offensive zone.
It’s only one game, but Montreal proved they belong in this 24-team format, that anything can happen in the playoffs, and that belief is a powerful tool. It is worth noting that more than 81% of teams who have won Game 1 of a best-of-five playoff series in the NHL have gone on to win the series.
We’ll see how far their us against the world mentality will take them, but the Canadiens passed their first test with flying colors.