The Golden Knights will play the Montreal Canadiens for the right to go to their second Stanley Cup Final in four years.
The matchup pits the NHL’s standard bearer for success against the league’s fresh upstarts. The Canadiens are the most accomplished franchise in history, with 24 Stanley Cups to their name and an additional 10 final appearances.
The Knights have 36 playoff wins, but they will be heavily favored in the best-of-seven series. They finished tied for the most points in the NHL and will have home-ice advantage the rest of the postseason. The Canadiens finished with the worst record (24-21-11) among playoff teams and were 18th in points percentage.
Montreal earned its first semifinal appearance since 2014 by defeating the North Division champion Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round and sweeping the Winnipeg Jets in the second.
A key storyline will be how Knights left wing Max Pacioretty fares against his former team.
Pacioretty was drafted by the Canadiens 22nd overall in 2007 and played 10 seasons for the team, including three as its captain. He was traded to the Knights on Sept. 9, 2018, for forwards Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar, plus a 2019 second-round pick.
Pacioretty had an OK first season with the Knights before shining in that postseason. Since then, he has led the team in goals twice and points once. His 56 goals are the 10th-most in the NHL over the past two years.
Suzuki and Tatar ended up becoming key pieces for Montreal. Tatar has ranked second, first and fourth on the team in scoring the past three seasons. Suzuki, whom the Knights selected 13th overall in the 2017 draft, has become the Canadiens’ second-line center and is their second-leading scorer in the playoffs.
It’s a trade probably both teams can live with. The winner of this series will still likely get some extra bragging rights.
The key for Montreal will be maintaining its sparkling postseason play. The Canadiens’ mediocre regular season, which included firing coach Claude Julien and promoting Dominique Ducharme midseason, ended with them backing into the playoffs with an 0-3-2 record in their final five games.
They seemed destined for a swift exit after Toronto outscored them 12-4 in the first four games of the postseason to take a 3-1 series lead. Then, Montreal magic happened.
The Canadiens won seven straight games to become the first team to reach the NHL semifinals. They became the third team in league history to sweep a series after overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the previous round.
Most remarkably, the Canadiens haven’t trailed since Game 4 against the Maple Leafs. Montreal’s streak of 437:53 without trailing is the second-longest run in playoff history behind its own record of 488:38 in 1960.
The Canadiens accomplished that feat through depth and goaltending. The team has four solid forward lines, led by the excellent defensive group of left wing Artturi Lehkonen, center Phillip Danault and right wing Brendan Gallagher. Tatar is normally in Lehkonen’s spot, but he hasn’t played since Game 5 against Toronto.
Suzuki has centered an effective scoring line for Montreal with left wing Tyler Toffoli and rookie right wing Cole Caufield. Toffoli ranked seventh in goals (28) in the regular season and has 10 points in 11 playoff games. Caufield has four points in his first NHL postseason after winning the Hobey Baker award for the best collegiate player in April.
Third-line power forward Josh Anderson and fourth-line forwards Eric Staal and Corey Perry give the Canadiens scoring depth. The blue line is also solid with captain Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot and offensive weapon Jeff Petry. Petry was tied for seventh among defensemen in scoring with 42 points. He didn’t play in Game 4 against the Jets after sustaining an upper-body injury in Game 3.
Former Knights defenseman Jon Merrill is also with Montreal after being traded from Detroit midseason.
Overall, the Canadiens have a solid if unspectacular group of skaters. A lot of quality players but few game-breaking stars.
They do, however, have one in the net.
Carey Price has been in Montreal for 14 seasons. In that time, he’s won one Vezina Trophy and finished in the top 10 of the voting an additional six times. He won the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP in 2015, becoming the eighth goaltender to win the award.
Price also has tremendous respect from his peers. The NHL Players Association’s annual poll named him the most difficult goaltender to score on in 2018. He was named the best goaltender in the same poll the following two years.
Price is living up to his reputation this postseason. He has a .935 save percentage and 1.97 goals-against average in 11 games. He’s the key to the Canadiens pulling off a potential upset, if a 24-time Stanley Cup winner advancing can be called such a thing.
Contact Ben Gotz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.