The Montreal Canadiens only needed one goal Friday night as Carey Price made 30 saves in a 1-0 shutout win, and the Habs head home with a 2-0 series lead over the Winnipeg Jets.
Montreal forward Tyler Toffoli’s shorthanded goal early in the second period was the only puck that got through a goalie as the Canadiens stretched their winning streak to five games.
But despite being unable to find the back of the net, the Jets still felt they were much improved from Game 1.
“That was a great step in the right direction,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. “I thought we played a great game. Unfortunately it was one of those games where whoever scores first was going to win. I thought we were off to a way better start and had quite a few looks there to tie the game up. And unfortunately it was just a matter of being unable to get that bounce to go our way.”
The shots were relatively even in the first two periods. The Jets took the game over for a good portion of the final frame as they pushed for the equalizer, but they just couldn’t get a puck past Price who recorded his eighth career playoff shutout.
“We just got to keep doing what we’re doing,” forward Nikolaj Ehlers said. “I think we had a lot of great chances. So, if we keep doing what we’re doing – it’s going to go in. So we’re confident, we’re a confident team.”
“I think we’re just kinda keeping on, keeping on,” said forward Andrew Copp. “They just went through a seven-game series. We got a back-to-back coming up, so those top four D (defencemen) for them are logging a lot of minutes. They’re big boys, they’re physical, so we’re just trying to wear them down over the course of a seven-game series.”
The Jets have yet to hold a lead in the series. In the 120 minutes played in the first two games, the Habs have played in front for almost 95 minutes.
Like the series opener, the Jets continue to surrender way too many odd-man rushes, but they held a 30-24 edge in shots.
“A big improvement for us from the Game 1,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “Neither team scores an even-strength goal, and hard to come by opportunities at either end of the ice. But much, much better than our Game 1.”
The Jets made three lineup adjustments for Game 2 with one change because of an injury, one due to a suspension, and another by choice.
In the first game since Mark Scheifele’s four-game ban was handed down by the NHL Department of Player Safety, Pierre-Luc Dubois stepped into the role of first line centreman between Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler. Kristian Vesalainen played his first contest since Game 1 against the Edmonton Oilers, Jordie Benn replaced an injured Dylan DeMelo on defence, and forward Dominic Toninato was benched in favour of Jansen Harkins. Paul Stastny missed a second straight game.
Heading on the road for the next two games down 2-0 is the worst-case scenario for Winnipeg, but the Jets are confident in their game away from Bell MTS Place. They actually had a better road record in the regular season, going 17-10-1 as the visitors.
“We’ve been a better road team than we’ve been a home team all year,” Maurice said. “So we got some confidence going into the other team’s building.”
The Jets finished the night 0-for-2 on the power-play and looked disjointed at times on the man advantage, with the top unit missing both Scheifele and Stastny.
“It’s a challenge,” said Maurice. “Especially when you lose those two key pieces on that. So we’ll get a chance to look at it tomorrow here and have a little more time, a better understanding where Paul’s (Stastny) at, so we might be able to shift some things around.”
While the odds are certainly stacked against the Jets now after dropping the first two on home ice, it was only two years ago they rebounded after losing the first two games of a series at home. In the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Jets lost the first two games at home to the St. Louis Blues, but bounced back to take the next two games on the road.
“You learn every single year,” said Ehlers. “There are still a lot of guys that are here that played that series against St. Louis. So, everyone in here knows what it takes. And I think we played a really good game, and worked our asses off, so we just got to keep going.”
The Jets came out flying in the first period doing their best to limit Montreal’s scoring chances and keeping the puck to the outside. Logan Stanley and Derek Forbort stood their ground keeping Habs’ forwards away from any rebounds allowing Connor Hellebuyck to see every puck coming his way.
Winnipeg’s second line of Mathieu Perreault, Copp and Ehlers had the most chances all period, hemming the Canadiens in the offensive zone each shift, using their speed and quick passes to keep the puck moving and grabbing loose pucks caused by a strong forecheck.
The first power-play of the game came in the second period after Paul Byron tried, but missed lifting Adam Lowry’s stick and caught Lowry in the mouth. Try as he might, Lowry wasn’t able to show the referee any blood from the high-stick, keeping the power-play to only two minutes.
The puck wasn’t bouncing the Jets’ way as Toffoli grabbed a loose puck from a funny hop off the end boards after Kyle Connor’s slap shot went wide. Toffoli came down on a 2-on-1, waited out a sliding Josh Morrissey and a back-checking Connor to fire home the opening goal blocker side on Hellebuyck to give the Habs a shorthanded tally and 1-0 lead.
After Toffoli’s goal, the Canadiens did everything they could to get in front of Winnipeg’s point shots and played conservatively on offence, not taking risks, while making sure they had numbers when backchecking. Late in the second period, an errant pass from Vesalainen to Ehlers landed on the tape of Phillip Danault who quickly turned up ice for a 3-on-2 opportunity snuffed out by Hellebuyck.
The game was significantly less physical than the series opener with few scuffles in front of the net and only a handful of strong checks as both teams relied more on reading the play and keeping their sticks active to strip their opponents in the neutral zone.
Less than a minute into the third, both goalies were tested from close range. Dubois took a feed from Ehlers and fired a quick shot low on Price who steered the rebound into the corner, and shortly after Jesperi Kotkaniemi grabbed a loose puck and walked in all alone on Hellebuyck who stuck out his right pad to keep the young Finnish star off the board.
Ehlers may have sold a trip midway through the third, but it put Shea Weber in the box and gave the Jets only their second powerplay of the night. Some good puck movement had Morrissey tee one up and blast it through traffic only to have Price swallow it up. The lone shot on net was the only chance the Jets would get with the man advantage as the Canadiens clamped down at the blueline, giving the Jets headaches trying to just get the puck in the zone.
A sense of urgency Winnipeg would have liked to see all game came over the Jets in the third period as they tried to press the Canadiens into their zone and get more pucks on net to test Price. The Habs got bodies in the slot and knocked down pucks with hands, shoulders and legs frustrating Winnipeg’s defence looking for the equalizer.
Strong defensive play created two dangerous offensive chances for the Habs. Byron tried to sneak one under Hellebuyck’s left pad on a 2-on-1 and less than a minute later the former Vezina Trophy winner squeezed Nick Suzuki’s shot holding the lead to only one as the third ticked away.
Toffoli nearly had his second of the night hitting the post on the empty net with 25 seconds left and the rebound to Danault was saved by a sprawling Neal Pionk.
The Habs wouldn’t need to add an insurance marker as Price recorded the shutout to send the series back to Montreal with Jets down 0-2 and still without Scheifele for the next three games.
You can catch Game 3 on 680 CJOB on Sunday starting with the pre-game show starting at 3 o’clock.
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