The Montreal Canadiens can clinch their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1993 if they can beat the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of their semifinal series on Thursday.
Montreal will enjoy home-ice advantage as it tries to become the first Canadian team to reach the Finals since the Vancouver Canucks did so in 2011.
Canadiens embrace underdog role
The Canadiens took a 3-2 lead in the semifinal series by beating the Golden Knights 4-1 in Vegas on Tuesday. Montreal players say that they see signs of frustrations from Vegas, which came into the series as the favorite.
“We were kind of going into this series as underdogs, and they probably thought they were going to have more puck possession and do more stuff on the power play,” Canadiens defenseman Erik Gustafsson told reporters. “But I think we’ve been on them from Game 1.”
Montreal slipped into the playoffs as the No. 4 team out of the North Division, which featured the seven Canadian teams. The Canadiens finished the year on a five-game losing streak and with a negative goal differential. They entered the playoffs as the lowest-seeded team in the field.
Now, Montreal stands just one game away from the Stanley Cup Final, but assistant coach Luke Richardson says the job is far from done.
“We’re not really talking too far ahead,” Richardson, who is serving as the head coach for the Canadiens due to Dominique Ducharme’s positive COVID-19 test, told reporters on Thursday. “I think we’re really focused on tonight. The guys had great energy on the ice and in the meetings this morning.”
Despite the momentum and home ice, Montreal will come into Game 6 as the underdog. FanDuel Sportsbook lists the Golden Knights as the -142 pick for Game 6, with the Canadiens fetching +120. Needing only one win, Montreal is now the -188 favorite to win the series, however.
Lehner back in net for Game 6
The first task for the Golden Knights is to get the series back to Vegas. The team will put its fate in the hands of goaltender Robin Lehner, who made 27 saves in a 2-1 overtime win in Game 4 of this series. He’ll take over for Marc-Andre Fleury, who has gotten the bulk of the work this postseason. Fleury is 9-7 in the playoffs, but just 1-3 against the Canadiens.
The Golden Knights have made it clear that they have confidence in both of their goaltenders, no matter who takes the net on a given night.
|Vegas Golden Knights vs. Montreal Canadiens Odds – Game 6 (via FanDuel Sportsbook)|
|Vegas Golden Knights: -138||Montreal Canadiens: +118|
|To Win Series|
|Vegas: +156||Montreal: -188|
“I’ve said it many times, we have the best duo in the NHL,” Vegas forward Tomas Nosek told reporters. “That’s our advantage. We can switch them any time. [Lehner] is a great goalie. He proved it in Game 5 and, hopefully, he can prove it tonight too.”
If Vegas wins on Thursday, it will host Game 7 on Saturday. The other semifinal series is knotted at 3-3 after the New York Islanders scored a 3-2 overtime win at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 on Wednesday. Tampa Bay will host that Game 7 on Friday night.