August 11th, 2020

Habs stun Pens in OT

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on August 1, 2020.

Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry (26) celebrates along with Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) after scoring the game winning goal past Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray (30) during overtime NHL Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoff action in Toronto on Saturday, August 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO – Jeff Petry scored at 13:57 of overtime, Carey Price made 39 saves, and the underdog Montreal Canadiens stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on Saturday to open their best-of-five qualifying round series as the NHL raised the curtain on the restart to its pandemic-halted season.

Petry picked up a loose puck in the right faceoff circle and ripped a shot through Murray before being mobbed by teammates.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki had the goals in regulation for Montreal, the Eastern Conference’s No. 12 seed in the league’s 24-team resumption of play.

Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust replied for Pittsburgh, the No. 5 seed in the East, which will look to rebound in Monday’s Game 2.

Matt Murray stopped 32 shots inside an empty Scotiabank Arena as the league returned following a 142-day absence after COVID-19 ground the sport – and much of society – to a halt some 4 1/2 months ago.

Jonathan Drouin had a chance to win it for Montreal earlier in overtime on a penalty shot when he was held on a breakaway, but the puck rolled off the end of his stick and dribbled wide.

Tied 2-2 through 40 minutes, Montreal killed off a 5-on-3 Pittsburgh power play for 1:32 early in the third period despite some sustained pressure. Both teams then failed to connect on 5-on-4 advantages, with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin coming closest from the slot.

Conor Sheary had a golden opportunity to win it with 3:03 left in regulation for Pittsburgh, but the winger missed the net on a penalty shot after Crosby hit the post. Montreal then came within a whisker at the other end, but a deflected point shot rang off iron behind Murray and stayed out.

Saturday marked the first time an NHL post-season game has featured two penalty shots since March 29, 1923.

The youthful Canadiens carried a 1-0 lead after the first thanks to Price’s stellar performance, and doubled that advantage at 6:53 of the second when Suzuki stole the puck from Brian Dumoulin at the Montreal blue line and raced in on a 2-on-1 before ripping a shot upstairs on Murray.

The battle-tested Penguins, who still have the core of their Stanley Cup-winning rosters from 2016 and 2017, got that one back on a delayed penalty at 9:55 when Crosby banked a shot in off Price with the netminder caught out of position. Then with Drouin off in the box, Rust poked a shot home from the lip of the crease 2:39 later to bring Pittsburgh back level at 2-2.

Pittsburgh came out firing, but Price shut the door at every turn, including two pad stops on Malkin from the slot as the Canadiens trailed 10-1 on the shot clock less than six minutes into the first.

Coming off a tough sophomore season where he was demoted to the minors and suffered a spleen injury, Kotkaniemi provided Montreal an unlikely counterpunch when a point shot went in off the former No. 3 pick at 11:27.

Tomas Tatar nearly made it 2-0 later in the period with a pair of chances on a power play, but the winger failed to find the range as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 18-6 through 20 minutes.

The Canadiens were playing out the string – 15 points back of the Penguins – and looking to next season after dealing some key veterans prior to the trade deadline when the novel coronavirus forced the NHL to suspend its schedule March 12.

Sitting a pedestrian 24th in the standings at the time, Montreal was handed a lifeline when the league decided on a 24-team format.

And while the Canadiens have a second chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, a significant section of the fan base is hoping they lose to the heavily-favoured Penguins and then win the NHL’s second draft lottery for the right to pick Quebec-born junior star Alexis Lafreniere at No. 1.

Montreal and Pittsburgh squared off in the third game of the day at Scotiabank Arena, which could have been mistaken for a meat locker as the league looks to protect the ice surface from the summer heat, after the Carolina Hurricanes beat the New York Rangers 3-2, and the New York Islanders downed the Florida Panthers 2-1.

Notes: The Canadiens and Penguins have met twice before in the post-season, with Montreal winning both times, including a seven-game victory in the second round back in 2010. … Pittsburgh had the seventh-best record in the NHL when the season was suspended March 12.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2020.

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