The Montreal Canadiens are one win from the Stanley Cup Final but caution there remains work to be done first even though the fan base and city is ready to celebrate.
“It’s been a good run so far but we’re still a long way from what we want to achieve,” forward Joel Armia said. “Obviously, playing in the city of Montreal, it’s been awesome. All the fans have been great and the support has been awesome.”
The Canadiens can advance to the Final for the first time since 1993 with a victory in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN, TVAS).
With the opportunity to eliminate Vegas on home ice on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, one of the most revered holidays in Quebec, the anticipation in Montreal is at a fever pitch.
Assistant Luke Richardson, coaching the Canadiens in place of Dominique Ducharme, away from the team after a positive COVID-19 test, hopes Montreal can embrace the moment, but at the same time wants his players to remember finishing off a team is not easy. The perfect example is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had a 3-1 series lead against the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup First Round only to lose three straight.
Still, he said it’s hard not to get caught up in what Montreal has done this postseason and what it can accomplish.
“It feels like a celebration,” Richardson said, “and we’re not satisfied. We’re just enjoying the ride and the run because the players deserve it. They’re earning it.
“As a coaching staff, we’ve really enjoyed watching them have the success that they deserve because they’ve really earned it on the ice.”
After losing Game 4 against the Maple Leafs, the Canadiens have gone 10-2 since. A big reason is their ability to shut down the opponents’ top scorers.
Montreal has limited Vegas forwards Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty to one goal, scored by Pacioretty in the third period of Game 5. Stone led the Golden Knights in scoring during the regular season with 61 points (21 goals, 40 assists) in 55 games and Pacioretty was second with 51 points (24 goals, 27 assists) in 48 games.
In 16 playoff games, the Canadiens have faced some of the NHL’s top scorers in Stone and Pacioretty, forwards Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner of the Maple Leafs, and forwards Mark Scheifele (for one game), Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets, and held them to a total of three goals.
Stone symbolized the frustrations of the Golden Knights in Game 5 when he smashed his stick after his giveaway led to Montreal’s third goal, by forward Cole Caufield at 9:49 of the second period. Erik Gustafsson said Montreal’s pressuring of the puck when Vegas has it has been a key in deflating the Golden Knights.
“We were on them all the time,” the defenseman said. “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 and stuff like that. But I think we’ve been on them since Game 1. Just like yesterday, we forechecked hard. We played hard in front of our net, and made the easy play from our own zone.”
That blueprint had led the Canadiens to within one win of their first finals appearance in 28 years. Gustafsson said that fact alone should have Bell Centre rocking for Game 6, even though the crowd will be limited because of COVID-19 protocols.
“We know the COVID stuff but it’s fun to see at least the small amount that get into the arena,” he said. “It’s 3,500 but it feels more than that. It feels like it’s 10,000 when we play at home.
“Just the passion about the hockey in this town, it’s crazy. And it’s a lot of fun to play where we’re at right now.”