Habs push Jets to edge of elimination with dominant 5-1 win

MONTREAL — Joel Armia had two goals and an assist, Carey Price made 26 saves, and the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-1 on Sunday to take a 3-0 lead in their second-round playoff series.

Corey Perry, Artturi Lehkonen and Nick Suzuki also scored for the Canadiens.

Adam Lowry replied for the Jets, who got 28 stops from Connor Hellebuyck.

After storming back from a 3-1 deficit to stun the heavily favoured Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round, Montreal can wrap up this best-of-seven North Division matchup Monday night back at the Bell Centre.

Having swept Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers in the first round, the Jets will simply be looking to force a Game 5 on Wednesday in Winnipeg.

The Canadiens, who haven’t trailed on the scoreboard since losing Game 4 against Toronto and won their sixth straight post-season contest, lead a series 3-0 for the first time since 2015.

Montreal welcomed another 2,500 towel-waving fans on a steaming spring evening after hosting the first NHL crowd in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic for Game 6 against Toronto.

With No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele serving a four-game suspension for charging on Jake Evans in the opener, the Jets got Paul Stastny back after he missed the first two contests in Winnipeg with an undisclosed injury.

The Canadiens opened the scoring at 4:45 of the first period on a grinding shift by the fourth line of Perry, Armia and Eric Staal. Caught in the middle of a change following a turnover, the Jets were hemmed into their own end for 30 seconds before Perry’s shot — the Canadiens’ third chance of the sequence — went off Winnipeg defenceman Jamie Benn’s stick and past Hellebuyck for the veteran winger’s third of the post-season.

Price, who blanked the Jets 1-0 in Game 2 for his eighth career playoff shutout, continued to keep things in check at the other end once the visitors started to get going midway through the period with nice saves on Andrew Copp and Blake Wheeler.

Hellebuyck had to be sharp early in the second, including a great glove stop on Montreal rookie Cole Caufield.

Winnipeg came close to getting even a couple of times later in the period, but Price was twice bailed out by his crossbar on shots from Nikolaj Ehlers and Wheeler.

The home side pushed back and got a greasy goal at 9:24 to make it 2-0 when Lehkonen banged his first of the playoffs home on a scramble after Phillip Danault hit the post.

The Jets went to the power play when the Canadiens were whistled for too many men, but Armia intercepted Stastny’s pass and broke the other way on a 2 on 1 before delaying around a sliding Josh Morrissey and firing his third — and Montreal’s third short-handed goal of the playoffs — at 13:41 inside an electric Bell Centre that sounded like a lot more than 2,500 people.

Lowry broke Price’s shutout streak at 99 minutes 33 seconds with 2:09 left in the period when he took a pass from Mathieu Perreault and fired blocker side for his second.

But the Canadiens iced it on a power play at 8:52 of the third with Stastny off for high-sticking when Caufield found Suzuki in front for his fourth.

Armia then added his second of the night into an empty net with Hellebuyck on the bench for an extra attacker and Montreal killing another penalty with 3:18 left as the familiar chants of “Ole! Ole! Ole!” echoed around the Bell Centre.

Only four teams have battled back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series in NHL history, with the last coming in 2014 when the Los Angeles Kings defeated the San Jose Sharks in the first round. Jets centre Trevor Lewis and Canadiens winger Tyler Toffoli were both on that Kings team that would go on to win the franchise’s second Stanley Cup.

The Leafs invited 550 fully vaccinated health-care workers for Game 7 of the Canadiens’ series, while the Jets had 500 on hand for the first two home games of the second round.

The Canadiens, however, have given priority to season-ticket holders, suite owners and corporate partners after Quebec’s government relaxed some COVID-19 restrictions late last month. The cheapest pair of tickets on one resale website was roughly $1,300 about 2 1/2 hours before Sunday’s puck drop.

All playoff games in the U.S. have included fans, with some buildings approaching full capacity.

Notes: Canadiens great Guy Lafleur, who is battling lung cancer, was in attendance and got a rousing ovation from the crowd. … The federal government announced Sunday it will issue a travel exemption to allow the winner of the North Division and an American counterpart to cross the border during the third round of the playoffs and, if necessary, the Stanley Cup final. … Benn dressed for a second straight contest after Dylan DeMelo was hurt early in Game 1. … Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, a force in last summer’s post-season bubble, hasn’t scored in 23 games dating back to April 8.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2021.

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