The Montreal Canadiens did everything they could have hoped to do—especially from a defensive standpoint—to try to grab a 3-1 lead on Vegas on Sunday night. Paul Byron converted one opportunistic chance on Knights goalie Robin Lehner, but otherwise, the story of Game 4 was about how the Habs stifled the Vegas attack, which had scored the third-most goals of any team in the league this season.
Part of that was Carey Price, who 50 minutes into the game was well on his way to delivering his third straight shutdown performance. But more than that, after giving up 45 shots to Vegas in a Game 3 they were quite lucky to win, the Habs brought the defensive muscle in Game 4, forcing the Knights away from the middle of their attacking zone and only allowing 21 shots on net this time out. More than that, even, according to Natural Stat Trick, the Canadiens did not allow a single high-danger scoring chance (essentially, shots in the slot or crease) against Vegas all through regulation, after the Knights had at least nine in every game so far in this series.
The Habs unquestionably executed a solid game plan to near-perfection, but one little slip-up doomed them to a series deadlock. Less than 10 minutes from a win, William Karlsson took advantage of a failed clearance to make some space for himself down behind the net. From there, he sent a pass up to defenseman Brayden McNabb, who was pretty far to Price’s left but nevertheless one-timed it towards goal. This is where the slow-mo replay plays tricks on your eyes. The puck seemingly disappears into Price’s body and then somehow, a moment later, it pops out behind the line. I guess Carey was just a fraction of a second too slow in bringing his arm into his body, but still, I keep watching it and thinking what an impossibly small space that was for McNabb to try and fit a puck into. And yet, that’s the shot that Vegas needed to tie the game.
The Knights went on to finally manufacture a high-danger opportunity after just a minute of overtime, as Nick Roy expertly finished off a scramble in front of net for the 2-1 victory. The Canadiens will be left rueing, in particular, that Cole Caufield breakaway just a few minutes before the McNabb goal, which could have given them a two-goal cushion. But overall, I don’t think they could be anything but satisfied about splitting the first four games with the heavily favored Knights. Over the course of this series so far—especially since a convincing Game 1 loss—the Habs have done an exemplary job of shrinking the Knights’ margin for error, combining outstanding goalie play and faceoff wins and tough, wear-you-down skating and the occasional flash of skill to put as much pressure on Vegas as possible. So when Marc-Andre Fleury misplays a puck, it’s enough for Montreal to steal a win. Or, in Game 4, if McNabb can’t perfectly slot a puck through basically an invisible target under Price’s armpit on a less-than-optimal chance, the Canadiens go up 3-1.
By taking advantage of Vegas’s mistakes and hitching a ride on Carey Price’s back, the Habs have done what an outmatched team needs to do in order to frustrate and drain more talented opposition. With things all square and two out of three games remaining in the desert, they’re still the team with the longer shot. But the Canadiens have also proven that they deserve to be playing this deep in the postseason. What’s left is finding a way to score just a few more goals for themselves.