Updated June 22, 2021 - 10:09 pm
Pete DeBoer didn’t have many answers Tuesday.
With the stage set for the Golden Knights to move one step closer to playing for the Stanley Cup, they instead turned in one of their worst performances of the postseason and left their coach searching for what happened.
“Hard to explain,” DeBoer said.
The Knights were pushed to the brink of elimination in the Stanley Cup semifinals, losing 4-1 to Montreal in Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena.
The Canadiens, who finished fourth in the North Division and were the lowest-seeded team in the playoffs, are one victory from playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1993.
Game 6 of the best-of-seven series is Thursday at Bell Centre in Montreal, as the Knights look to avoid crashing out in the final four for the second straight season.
“We’ve got to find a way,” DeBoer said. “That’s our job to try to turn over every stone here. Are there some X’s and O’s answers? I’m sure there’s some things we can talk about and do a little bit differently.
“I don’t have a clear answer for you other than we’ve been in this type of spot before. We’ve had adversity before, and we’ve responded the right way every time with this group. I’m confident we’ll be ready to go in Game 6.”
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury earned the start after sitting out the Game 4 victory, and center Chandler Stephenson returned after missing three games with an upper-body injury, as the Knights were at full strength for the first time in the playoffs.
But Montreal stifled the Knights’ offense for the first 40 minutes, and the announced crowd of 17,969 booed the home team after the second period when it was trailing 3-0.
“We weren’t playing very well, so maybe we deserved it,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said. “We got outworked from puck drop. It is what it is. The fans are great. We love our fans. I’m sure they were frustrated as were we.”
Max Pacioretty scored in the third period against his former club, the first goal by a top-six forward in the series for the Knights.
DeBoer switched his forward lines in the second period hoping to spark the offense, with Pacioretty joining William Karlsson and Reilly Smith. Jonathan Marchessault skated with Stephenson and Mark Stone, to little effect.
The Knights’ power play finished 0-for-2 and hasn’t scored in its past 16 tries since the second-round series against Colorado.
“We’ve got to play better. We know we can,” forward Nicolas Roy said. “When we play our best, we have four lines, six Ds and everyone’s going, going hard. One line right after the other. I don’t think we did that tonight, so we’ll refocus and get ready for the next game.”
Former Knights draft pick Nick Suzuki scored an empty-net goal and added two assists for the Canadiens. His backcheck on Mark Stone forced the Knights’ captain into a turnover that led to Cole Caufield’s second-period goal and a 3-0 Montreal lead.
Canadiens goalie Carey Price finished with 26 stops and has limited the Knights to seven goals in the past four games while posting a .944 save percentage.
Montreal improved to 7-2 on the road in the playoffs.
“Obviously, not where we want to be. But I don’t think there’s any panic,” Fleury said. “We all wanted to do better tonight. It’s disappointing.”
The Knights continued their slow starts, allowing the first goal for the third time in the series and the 12th time in 18 postseason games. They fell to 6-6 when the opponent scores first.
Josh Anderson leaked out of the zone early and got a step on defenseman Zach Whitecloud before his backhand was stopped by Fleury.
But the rebound sat just outside the crease, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi beat defenseman Nick Holden to the loose puck for his first goal of the series and fifth of the postseason at 8:45 of the first period.
Suzuki set up the Canadiens’ second goal when he shielded the puck along the wall and found Eric Staal on the weak side for a 2-0 lead at 6:32 of the second period, leaving the crowd in stunned silence.
“We played right into their game,” McNabb said. “We didn’t play our game at all. We know what we need to fix. We know we can win in their building, and we’re going to go and do that.”
Canadiens lead 3-2
Game 1: Knights 4, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Canadiens 3, Knights 2
Game 3: Canadiens 3, Knights 2, OT
Game 4: Knights 2, Canadiens 1, OT
Game 5: Canadiens 4, Knights 1
Game 6: 5 p.m. Thursday, Montreal (USA)
x-Game 7: 5 p.m. Saturday, T-Mobile Arena (NBCSN)