LAS VEGAS — This being Las Vegas, the Montreal Canadiens decided they would make it interesting.
After a resounding Game 1 loss, Canada's only hope for a Stanley Cup finals berth looked a little more promising Wednesday as they held off the Vegas Golden Knights for a 3-2 win to knot their semifinal series at a game apiece.
But they also let it get a little too close for comfort.
The Habs took a 2-0 lead into the locker room after the first frame, thanks to momentum builders from Joel Armia and Tyler Toffoli.
Paul Byron added even more breathing room late in the second, when he was able to capitalize on a Knights giveaway deep in their own end, racing in to beat Marc-André Fleury on the glove side.
But then Knights defenceman Alex Pietrangelo showed up again.
Pietrangelo, whose mighty point slapshot off the faceoff was giving Habs netminder Corey Price fits in Game 1, got up to his old tricks again Wednesday, notching a pair to bring both the Knights and their deafening capacity crowd right back into it.
The result was a thrilling third period that felt as though Vegas just ran out of time, rather than energy.
"That's two faceoffs that they scored on," said interim Habs coach Dominique Ducharme.
"We've got to do a better job — I think on both times it was on an icing (call) that I think we could have avoided. So we've got to be better in those situations."
Price stopped 29 of 31 shots, while at the other end, Fleury stopped 20 of 23 in front of a capacity crowd of 17,920.
Montreal opened the scoring with 6:12 gone in the first when Armia snapped a loose puck past a helpless Fleury to notch his fifth goal of the playoffs.
The Canadiens made it 2-0 at the 16:30 mark when Toffoli collected Caulfield's pass in the slot, firing a weak changeup that somehow trickled through Fleury's pads.
Byron added insult to injury late in the second, capitalizing on a giveaway deep in Knights territory to race in alone on Fleury, beating him glove side.
Pietrangelo finally got Vegas on the board moments later with a blue-line blast through traffic that glanced off the skate of a screened Price.
"He's a solid player," said Montreal defenceman Joel Edmundson. "He does this every year, so we've just got to find a way to slow him down."
The Habs outshot the Knights 12-4 in the first period, but didn't register their 13th until nearly six minutes into the second.
Instead, it was Vegas ratcheting up the shot count throughout the second frame, only to encounter a blazing hot Price, whose theatrics kept the Golden Knights largely at bay all night.
At one point, an Alec Martinez blast from point-blank range left the boisterous crowd at T-Mobile Arena baffled when it didn't find the net, only to realize that Price's lightning-fast blocker had sent the puck whistling over the glass.
Price wasn't the only one of the Habs making saves Wednesday — his teammates blocked about two dozen shots on his behalf.
"These guys are out there paying the price every night — that's what the playoffs are all about," he said afterward.
"You have to earn every victory, but you know, every bruise is worth it at the end of the day."
Defenders Jeff Petry and Jon Merrill, on the mend from nagging injuries, rejoined the lineup Wednesday and provided a "huge boost," said winger Paul Byron.
"They've been in the league a long time and they know what it takes to win. It's nice to have them back out there and I think they're excited to lace them up again."
The Golden Knights won an NHL-best 40 games in the shortened 56-game regular season and tied Colorado for the highest point total in the league — 23 points more than Montreal in the standings.
But the Canadiens have been the underdogs twice already this post-season.
They were not expected to beat the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round, nor were they favoured to overcome the third-place Winnipeg Jets in the second round. The team silenced critics in both cases and came into Vegas riding a seven-game win streak that included a sweep of the Jets.
The Montreal-Vegas series is the first cross-border matchup in the NHL this season, made possible by a federal exemption allowing teams to bypass 14-day quarantine requirements.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2021.