The National Hockey League's most iconic franchise faces the glitzy new kids on the block Monday night in Las Vegas when the Montreal Canadiens open a best-of-seven Stanley Cup semifinal series with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Montreal has claimed 24 Stanley Cups in its storied history. The GoldenKnights, playing their fourth season in the game-show atmosphere of T-Mobile Arena, have advanced to the NHL's version of the Final Four for the third time in its four seasons in their quest to hoist the Cup for the first time.
So how much of an edge does Montreal have due to its history?
"The game is still played on the ice with the guys in the locker room," said Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury who grew up about 53 miles outside Montreal as a big fan of the Canadiens. "It doesn't matter if you have 24 Cups or none. You have to play the game in the moment, in the present, and be ready for that moment, and try to win that game."
Vegas, which eliminated President's Trophy winner Colorado in six games in the second round of the West Division, is a substantial favorite: The Knights are a 105 favorite by DraftKings to win the Stanley Cup while Montreal, a surprise winner in the North Division, has the longest odds at 900. Vegas Insider has the Canadiens at 1000.
All of which suits Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme just fine.
"I personally like to prove people wrong," Ducharme said, whose team has won seven playoff games in a row.
So far, so good. Montreal, which finished the regular season fourth in the North with just 59 points and a minus-9 goal differential, rallied from a 3-1 deficit to stun No. 1 seed Toronto in the first round and followed that with a four-game sweep of the third-seeded Winnipeg Jets in the second round.
Goaltender Carey Price, who has started all 11 playoff games for the Canadiens, has led the way with a 1.97 goals-against and .935 save percentage and one shutout.
"We expect it to be a hotly-contested series," said Ducharme. "When you get to the semifinals, you're facing teams that have good momentum and confidence. It's expected. That's the way things are going for the teams that are left. The further you advance, the greater the challenge. We'll be ready for the challenge."
Vegas, which led the NHL with 40 victories and a 67 goal differential, needed seven games to eliminate the Minnesota Wild in the first round and then had to bounce back from a 2-0 deficit in the second round by winning four consecutive games to oust Colorado.
Still, Knights coach Peter DeBoer said it would be a mistake to assume Vegas should cruise past Montreal based on regular-season records. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two teams haven't played since Jan. 18, 2020, when the Canadiens defeated the Golden Knights, 5-4, in a shootout in Montreal in DeBoer's second game after taking over for Gerard Gallant.
"You're foolish if you look at their record and make a judgment on them," said DeBoer. "They've beaten two very good teams and, really, the last seven games, they've been lights out. They've gone to another level.
"It's going to be a great series. You don't get this far, any team, without being a good team and beating very good teams."
--Field Level Media