A funny thing happened on the way to the Vegas Golden Knights running roughshod over all opposition on their way to a second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in their fourth season in existence.
The Montreal Canadians showed up.
Montreal defeated Vegas in Las Vegas 4-1 Monday night in the fifth game of their best-of-seven Cup Semifinals series, taking a three-games-to-two lead in the series. The Canadians can win the series at home on Wednesday evening.
Going into the playoffs, there was more than a little speculation that the seemingly inevitable second-round matchup between Vegas and the Colorado Avalanche, a series won by the Golden Knights four games to two, would be the indicator as to who would be in the Finals against most likely the defending champion and expert salary cap dodger Tampa Bay Lightning. The thinking was that whoever won the Vegas-Colorado series and thereby the Honda West division would have no problem in swiftly disposing of whoever won the Scotia North division, said division consisting of all seven Canadian franchises who never played any teams south of the border due to Justin Trudeau botching the Canadian response to COVID even more than Gavin Newsom and Gretchen Whitmer combined. The first game of the series seemingly bore this out, with Vegas’ stifling defense and swift counterattack leading to a 4-1 Golden Knights victory that wasn’t even that close.
But then, Montreal made adjustments. In Game Two, the Canadians raced out to a 2-0 lead, stretching it to 3-0 before the Golden Knights made it close at the end but not close enough, dropping a 3-2 decision in front of disappointed fans and Elvis impersonators alike. The series then shifted to Montreal, where things became weird. Vegas dominated Game Three everywhere but the scoreboard, losing in overtime 3-2. Montreal dominated Game Four everywhere but the scoreboard, losing in — yes, you’ve heard this before — overtime 3-2. With the series tied at two games apiece, conventional thinking was Vegas, now back on home ice, would reassert its superiority and take control. So much for conventional thinking.
Uncharacteristic sloppy puck handling by Vegas led to a 1-0 Montreal lead after the first period, which quickly grew to 3-0 in the second. The third goal was notched by Cole Caufield, a baby-faced assassin if ever there was one, who at his current rate of progress attempting to grow a playoff beard might be all the way up to a five o’clock shadow sometime in 2026. Vegas scored early in the third period, but could not solve the riddle of how to get pucks past Canadian goaltender Carey Price, who ended the game stopping twenty-six of twenty-seven shots. Montreal scored an empty-net goal near the end to make the final 4-1.
If anything is certain in this series, it is that nothing is certain. What is most definitely certain is that the series has been wildly entertaining. Although the notion of hockey in June does seem a trifle odd, for those who have not yet sworn off all professional sports it is making for some superb entertainment.