A pivotal Game 6 is on tap tonight when the Vegas Golden Knights go back to Canada to take on the series-leading Montreal Canadiens.
Let's get to it.
Maybe it doesn't happen this game, but if the Montreal Canadiens make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, we'll look back at the play of their veteran goaltender, Carey Price.
Price has been nothing short of fantastic this series — perhaps the best goaltender this side of Andrei Vasilevskiy in these playoffs — sporting a 2.13 goals-against average and a sparkling .929 save percentage.
Of course, it helps to have an elite defense in front of him, and an opposing offense that can't get anything going across from him.
Vegas' defensemen should be called "offensemen" with the way they've had to shoulder the goal-scoring load for this team. Not even the return of Chandler Stephenson did much to awaken a slumbering Vegas forward group (the way I thought they would in Game 5; instead, Montreal nearly had a shutout going before Max Pacioretty finally scored). Montreal's stingy, disciplined defense has also suppressed Vegas' power play, which hasn't had many opportunities to speak of during this series.
To make matters worse, Montreal's offense — supposedly the weakest part of this team — exploded for four goals in Game 5, including three straight unanswered against Marc-Andre Fleury.
Basically, the Habs have been the embodiment of "Anything can happen in the playoffs." Not many expected this team to make it this far, much less take a 3-2 series lead as it returns to Canada. Time after time, factors within and without the team have risen to create obstacles — whether it's been the absence of Jeff Petry or the quarantining of interim head coach Dominique Ducharme — yet Montreal just continues to defy the odds (quite literally, in fact).
That sounds like a team built to win in the playoffs.
Vegas, on the other hand, finds itself having to travel to Canada and try to figure out how to make this series go seven games. Will their forwards wake up — Mark Stone has yet to register a point this series, but he's not the only one struggling on this talented unit — and finally make an impact on the scoresheet? Will they get their power play going when they need it most? Now that Fleury has lost three straight and has looked human, will the Knights shake things up again and go with backup goalie Robin Lehner in this do-or-die game?
At -150 money-line odds, Vegas is expected to make this series go seven. The Islanders did it yesterday (much to my dismay, as I had the Lightning finishing them off and through two-and-a-half periods, it looked like they were going to do just that), and they've been the biggest underdogs of this semifinal.
Can't Vegas do it too — Vegas, which has been a big favorite to make the Stanley Cup Finals after knocking off the Colorado Avalanche?
At just +125 juice, the betting market seems to finally have caught up to Montreal's potency, as opposed to their late-season narrative. Both those lines seem right to me, but unlike Game 6 between the Lightning and Islanders, I'm going with the underdog here.
It might be asking too much for the Knights to suddenly see their offense explode — for Pacioretty to build off his late Game-5 goal and the point-less Stone to awaken; they didn't do it at home with Stephenson back. It's hard to expect them to suddenly turn the corner in Montreal, to break through the Habs' stout, ferocious defensive rotation and make Price look human again. Price, who has a .925 save percentage at home in these playoffs. It might be asking too much for Vegas' power play to suddenly get going after being silent all series. And it might be asking too much for Vegas to choose the right goaltender for this game.
But hey, as an agent of variance, maybe one or all of these things happen and the Knights live to fight another game. At -150, however, I'm not willing to pay for those possibilities.
Vegas has too many questions it needs answered by the time puck drops on Game 6. Montreal just has to keep doing what they've been doing and prepare to weather whatever storm the Knights will bring (and they will throw everything but the kitchen sink) to try and survive.
This Habs' team, with their style of hockey, has shown they're built to do just that.
Pick: Montreal Canadiens ML (+125)