Habs win Game 1 against Jets, but lose Evans to nasty hit


Mark Scheifele collided with Evans after the goal. He was taken from the ice on a gurney.

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Carey Price won the battle of Vézina Trophy-wining goaltenders as the Canadiens defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-3 in the opening game of their best-of-seven North Division final Wednesday at Bell MTS Place.

Price, who was outstanding as the Canadiens rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against Toronto in the opening round of the playoffs, continued his excellent play as he made 27 saves, while Connor Hellebuyck, who won the Vézina Trophy last year, stopped 29 shots.

The win extended Montreal’s current win streak to four games. The Canadiens’ longest win streak in the regular season was three games.

There was some drama late in the third as the Jets pulled Hellebuyck and Kyle Connor scored to bring the Jets to within a goal, but Jake Evans scored an empty-netter. Mark Scheifele collided with Evans after the goal and the Montreal player was taken from the ice on a gurney. Scheifele received a charging major and a game misconduct for the hit.

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Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele (left) level Montreal Canadiens centre Jake Evans after his empty-net goal during Game 1 of the North Division final in Winnipeg on Wed., June 2, 2021.
Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele (left) level Montreal Canadiens centre Jake Evans after his empty-net goal during Game 1 of the North Division final in Winnipeg on Wed., June 2, 2021. Photo by KEVIN KING /Winnipeg Sun

Derek Forbort scored midway through the third period to cut the Montreal lead to 3-2 but the Canadiens responded wth a power-play goal that featured a stretch pass to defenceman Shea Weber. Hellebuyck made the stop on Weber but Brendan Gallagher swooped in to score on the rebound.

The Canadiens had a quick start as they scored twice in a 1:41 span to take a 2-0 lead early in the first period.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who is making up for a mediocre regular season, opened the scoring at 3:30 when he found an opening at the far post and redirected Jeff Petry’s pass from the point.

Canadiens centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi (15) scores a first period goal against Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) in Game 1 of the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.
Canadiens centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi (15) scores a first period goal against Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) in Game 1 of the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Photo by James Carey Lauder /USA TODAY Sports

The veterans made it 2-0 as Corey Perry drove hard to the net and then slipped the puck past Hellebuyck to set up Eric Staal at the far side of the net.

The Canadiens’ power play produced three goals in the final two games against Toronto, but Montreal’s first opportunity Wednesday backfired when Eric Gustafsson had a pass blocked by Adam Lowry, who took off on a breakaway and beat Price through the five hole.

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Nick Suzuki displayed a veteran’s poise as he restored the Montreal’s two-goal lead. He faked a shot and then pulled the puck back and found some room behind Hellebuyck after the goaltender committed himself.

Joel Edmundson beat Hellebuyck with a shot from the point late in the first period but the goal was waved off when Kotkaniemi was sent off for goaltender interference.

The Canadiens defencemen, who had only two assists in the entire Toronto series, were more involved Wednesday, collecting six assists. Edmundson. who is best known as a defensive defenceman, and Petry each had two helpers while Weber and Gustafsson each added one.

Montreal managed to kill three penalties and the Canadiens have the best penalty-killing record in the playoffs.

The Jets played with only five defencemen after Dylan DeMelo suffered what appeared to be a sprained ankle on his first shift.

While Manitoba is experiencing a record number of COVID-19 cases, the Jets were given permission to open the the doors of Bell MTS Place for 500 fully vaccinated health care workers. The same number of fans will be admitted to Friday’s Game 2.

phickey@postmedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

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