Carey Price made 29 saves and the Montreal Canadiens beat the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-2, on Wednesday night to tie the Stanley Cup semifinal series at a game apiece.
Price improved to 9-4 in the playoffs, his most victories in a postseason. He had eight in 2014.
Paul Byron, Joel Armia, and Tyler Toffoli scored for Montreal, with Byron making it 3-0 with 2:45 left in the second period.
Alex Pietrangelo scored twice for Vegas, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 20 saves.
Game 3 is Friday night in Montreal.
Montreal has now won 21 straight playoff games when scoring three or more goals.
A goalie showdown
Semyon Varlamov is the wily veteran, coming off a season in which he set career bests in goals-against average, save percentage, and shutouts for the New York Islanders.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the league’s wins leader over the past four years for the Tampa Bay Lightning, coming off a Stanley Cup championship season and vying for his second Vezina Trophy in three years.
The two countrymen were teammates, too, a long way from the NHL playoffs.
“He’s been the best goalie in the NHL last couple of years,” Varlamov said of his counterpart. “He’s outstanding.”
The two were on Russia’s World Cup of Hockey squad in 2016, playing behind starter Sergei Bobrovsky. Last September, they squared off when the Islanders and Lightning met in the Eastern Conference finals, which Tampa Bay won in six games on the way to earning its first Stanley Cup.
The Russian netminders are part of a renaissance of sorts, one that was featured in last year’s postseason. This year, the showdown could be the deciding factor in the teams’ Stanley Cup semifinal series, which is tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 on Thursday night.
“I like this kid, but now we play against each other,” the 33-year-old Varlamov said. “He’s a very big goalie, very athletic, and won a Cup last year, won the Vezina Trophy. I can say a lot of great things about him.”
The 26-year-old Vasilevskiy has been the unquestioned starter for the Lightning since they traded Ben Bishop at the deadline in February 2017. Vasilevskiy has responded by totaling a league-best 149 wins over the past four seasons. He also holds franchise records for career wins (190), shutouts (26), games (302), and single-season marks for victories (44) and shutouts (eight).
Vasilevskiy, finishing the first year of an eight-year, $76 million extension, went 31-10-1 this season with a career-low 2.21 GAA and .925 save percentage.
“He’s super-competitive and he doesn’t like to lose,” Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov said. “He’s been unreal.”
Varlamov has been part of a tandem in New York the last two years after signing with the Islanders for four years, $20 million as a free agent. He split time with Thomas Greiss last season, starting 39 of the team’s 67 games and 19 of 22 in the playoff run. In 2021, he was paired with 25-year-old rookie Ilya Sorokin, a fellow Russian, and finished 19-11-4 with career bests of a 2.04 GAA, .929 save percentage and seven shutouts.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz has credited Varlamov for being “low maintenance” and quickly shaking off a bad play or bad night.
“Varly is one of those guys that [when he] has a bad game, you want to throw him in there right away because you know he’s going to come back with a really good game,” he said.
Varlamov missed the opener in the first round against Pittsburgh due to an injury and Sorokin won the game. Varlamov returned for the next two games, which the Islanders lost, so Trotz turned back to Sorokin, who was unbeatable as the Islanders won three straight to advance.
After Sorokin lost the opener of the second round to Boston, Trotz went back to Varlamov, citing his strong career record against the Bruins, and the Islanders advanced again.
“In our minds, Varly is one of the best goalies in the league,” Islanders forward Jordan Eberle said.
In this series, Varlamov has stopped 53 of 58 shots, leaving Game 2 briefly after getting run into. Sorokin stopped all six shots he faced while filling in.
Vasilevskiy also has 53 saves on 57 shots, and has helped the Lightning avoid consecutive losses in the last two postseasons while they improved to 11-0 in games following a defeat.
Rangers confirm Gerard Gallant is new coach
Gerard Gallant is the new coach of the New York Rangers and will be tasked with taking one of the NHL’s youngest clubs to the next level.
The Rangers confirmed Gallant’s hiring after agreeing to a four-year contract with him this week.
“Gerard’s proven track record has made him one of the league’s most sought-after coaches, and we are fortunate to have him as part of the team,” team owner James Dolan said in a statement. “I have no doubt that he will play a critical role in helping us take the next steps to building a championship-caliber team.”
The 57-year-old Gallant, who led Canada to a gold medal at the world hockey championship in Latvia after an 0-3 start, replaces David Quinn, who was fired along with much of his staff after the Rangers missed the playoffs in a disappointing season.
New Rangers president and general manager Chris Drury made the move to dismiss Quinn and hire Gallant after he replaced president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton, who were fired days earlier with Dolan citing the need for a “change in leadership.”
Drury said Gallant’s experience and success behind the bench at several levels made him the ideal choice to lead the team.
This will be Gallant’s fourth NHL head coaching job. He previously coached Columbus, Florida, and Vegas, winning the 2018 Jack Adams Award as coach of the year for leading the expansion Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final.
He was replaced midway through the 2019-20 season by Peter DeBoer, who has the Golden Knights in the semifinals against Montreal this year.
Gallant becomes the 36th head coach in franchise history. He has coached 541 career NHL games with a 270-216-4-51 record. As a player, he had 211 goals and 269 assists in 615 regular-season games in 11 seasons with Detroit and Tampa Bay.
Jason Spezza re-signs with Toronto
Jason Spezza re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, agreeing to the NHL-minimum $750,000 for next season. The 38-year-old Spezza had 10 goals and 20 assists in 54 regular-season games for his hometown team and added three goals and two assists in seven playoff games. Spezza has 351 goals and 619 assists in 1,177 career regular-season games for Ottawa, Dallas and Toronto. He has 28 goals and 47 assists in 92 playoff games … The Anaheim Ducks have hired Geoff Ward and Mike Stothers to replace assistant coaches Mark Morrison and Marty Wilford.
The 59-year-old Ward was the Calgary Flames’ head coach from November 2019 until last March, going 36-26-5 and leading the club to the 2020 playoffs in his first stint in charge of an NHL bench. He has been a head coach in the AHL and in Germany’s top league, and he won a Stanley Cup ring as an assistant with the Boston Bruins in 2011. The 59-year-old Stothers was the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliate from 2014 until 2020. He won a Calder Cup championship in 2015 and was named the league’s coach of the year. He has been an NHL assistant with Atlanta and Philadelphia.