TORONTO — Artturi Lehkonen spoiled Sidney Crosby’s 33rd birthday when he scored at 15:49 of the third period to break a scoreless tie and lead the Canadiens to a 2-0 win over Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday afternoon at Scotiabank Arena.
The victory gave the Canadiens a 3-1 edge in the best-of-five qualifying round series and they advance to the first round in the NHL Return to Play tournament against the winner of Saturday’s Tampa Bay-Philadelphia game. That series will be best-of-seven,
Paul Byron set up the winner when he skated wide around a defender, took the puck behind the net and passed out front to Lehkonen, who was stationed on Tristan Jarry’s doorstep,
Carey Price, who was outstanding throughout the series, made 22 saves for the shutout.
Shea Weber added an empty-net goal for the final margin.
The Canadiens opened things up to start the third period and they employed what should have been the obvious strategy, which was to put lots of pressure on goaltender Jarry, who was making his first career playoff appearance. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan decided to go with the inexperienced Jarry after Matt Murray gave up a bad goal to Jeff Petry, which proved to be the winner Wednesday night in Game 3.
The Canadiens had two good scoring chances in the first four minutes of the third, but Byron hit a post and Jarry plucked an attempt by Brendan Gallagher out of the air.
In the first two periods, the Canadiens seemed to be borrowing a page from their Dec. 10 playbook. On that day, they beat the Penguins 4-1 in Pittsburgh and that prompted Penguins owner Mario Lemieux to suggest that the Canadiens’ style of pay was “boring hockey.”
The Penguins enjoyed the edge in a tight-checking first period. Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 8-5 and had the best scoring chance when defenceman Brian Dumoulin unleashed a shot from the slot that hit Price in the chest.
The Canadiens had the only power play of the period and it was another disappointment. The Canadiens, who showed a semblance of competence with the extra man in Game 3, never established a presence in the Pittsburgh zone and the Penguins’ Bryan Rust had the only shot on goal.
It’s difficult to believe the teams could serve up a more boring period, but it was more of the same in the second with the Canadiens having a 6-5 edge in shots, Each team had a power play, but again, there were no shots with the extra man. Nick Suzuki had a short-handed shot with Joel Armia in the penalty box.
The Penguins finally had some power-play shots early in the third period, but Price made three saves, including one on Crosby from the left faceoff circle.
Julien came up with a surprise when he announced Alex Belzile would replace the injured Jake Evans on the fourth line. The 28-year-old Belzile was making his first NHL appearance.
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