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Defensemen get offensive in Golden Knights’ Game 1 win

Updated June 14, 2021 - 10:13 pm

Playing catch-up hasn’t been a problem this postseason for the Golden Knights, who trailed in almost every game they’ve played and were winless in Game 1s.

They decided to take the path of least resistance Monday.

With the defense corps leading the way, the Knights opened the Stanley Cup semifinals with a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in a physical encounter at T-Mobile Arena.

“Obviously to start a series you want to get out to a lead,” defenseman Nick Holden said. “I don’t think it’s going to change our game plan or how we prepare. We’re going to look at how the game went tonight, make sure that we’re ready for Game 2. That’s the biggest thing in the playoffs is making sure that you’re not dwelling or looking too much at the game you just played and making sure that you’re ready for the next one.”

Shea Theodore notched his first goal of the postseason and set up Alec Martinez in the second period. Holden scored in the third period, as defensemen accounted for three of the four goals.

The Knights, who lost three straight Game 1s dating to the playoffs last season, will look to take a 2-0 lead when the best-of-seven series continues Wednesday at T-Mobile.

Teams that win the opener in the conference finals/semifinals go on to win the series almost 70 percent of the time.

“They were impressive early. The way they were getting pucks and bodies to the net,” coach Pete DeBoer said of Montreal. “They’re a good hockey team. I like how we built our game tonight and I thought controlled it over the last 40 minutes.”

The Knights stepped outside of the West Division for the first time this season and rolled to their fifth consecutive victory after an early feeling out process.

Theodore helped put the Knights ahead 2-0 in the second period when he was left uncovered in the slot and grabbed a centering feed from Reilly Smith. Instead of challenging Canadiens goalie Carey Price, Theodore faked a shot and slid a pass to Martinez in the right circle for a one-timer at 2:18.

“I was going to shoot it, but he was yelling at me pretty good,” Theodore said. “He was wide open, too, so that definitely helped.”

Montreal cashed in on a power play, as Cole Caufield put in a rebound at 12:05 for his first career postseason goal before the Knights responded 53 seconds later to go ahead 3-1.

Alex Tuch’s shot deflected off a skate and went to Mattias Janmark, who was stationed at the back post and tapped in his fourth goal of the playoffs.

Smith had two assists to help the Knights snap Montreal’s seven-game winning streak.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 12 of his 28 saves in the first period, and the Canadiens generated little offense the rest of the way.

It was Fleury’s 90th career postseason victory, two behind Grant Fuhr for third on the all-time list.

“All night, all series, all season, these guys have been amazing,” Fleury said of his defensemen. “Blocking a lot of shots and helping me around the net for rebounds and clearing them away. It’s a big part of the game.”

Both teams traded paint throughout the first 20 minutes with a combined 44 hits, including Canadiens defenseman Alexander Romanov unloading on Alex Pietrangelo with an open-ice hit.

Montreal hadn’t played since finishing a sweep of Winnipeg on June 7 and was looking to become the first Canadian team to win in Las Vegas since Edmonton on Nov. 23, 2019.

But the Canadiens didn’t have a response once the Knights found their rhythm and fell behind for the first time since May 25.

Chandler Stephenson won an offensive-zone faceoff after the Canadiens iced the puck, and Brayden McNabb teed up Theodore for the one-timer from the point at 9:15.

Montreal hadn’t trailed for 437:53 entering the series.

“As soon as we settled in, scored the first goal, it felt like the pace was more in our favor, and we were able to create a little bit more,” Smith said. “They’re a good team playing with the lead so scoring first is going to be important.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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