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Golden Knights’ season ends with overtime loss in Montreal

Max Pacioretty was alone with the puck, in the arena where he spent his first 10 seasons in the NHL and served as the captain, staring at a net guarded by his former teammate.

With a career-defining moment on his stick, the Golden Knights forward fired a shot that would have tied the Stanley Cup semifinal series and crushed the city of Montreal all at once.

But Pacioretty couldn’t beat Canadiens goalie Carey Price, and the Knights season ended with a thud soon after.

“It comes down to moments,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought we had the best look of the night, maybe Max Pacioretty, in overtime. If that gets stuck in the net, maybe it’s a different series.

“It’s moments that you’ve got to seize.”

A season that started with Stanley Cup aspirations came to a bitter conclusion Thursday night, as the Knights lost 3-2 in overtime to the Canadiens in Game 6 at Bell Centre in Montreal.

Artturi Lehkonen scored 1:39 into overtime for Montreal, which advances to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993. The Canadiens will meet either the New York Islanders or defending champion Tampa Bay.

“It just came down to they did a better job scoring goals than we did in the series,” Reilly Smith said. “The chances were there, but it seemed like every time they got an opportunity or breakaway it ended up in the back of the net and we weren’t able to do the same on our end.”

Despite spending big in the offseason and tying Colorado for the most points in the NHL during the regular season, the Knights exited the playoffs at the same stage as last season.

And for the second straight year, the Knights’ offense went dry against a team that employs a tight defensive structure.

The Knights averaged 2.17 goals per game in the series. Mark Stone, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, was held without a point in the six games.

“I got skunked this series. That can’t happen,” Stone said. “I’m the captain of this team, the leader of this team. I take a lot of responsibility for what just occurred.”

Defenseman Alec Martinez slammed a rebound past Price 1:08 into the third period to tie the score 2-2 and breathe life into the Knights.

In the overtime, Stephenson cut across the slot and left a drop pass for Pacioretty. But Price came out to the top of his crease to make the gave-saving stop.

After the faceoff, the Canadiens gained possession and Phillip Danault carried the puck across the blue line with speed. He sent a pass to Lehkonen on the left wing, and Lehkonen’s shot beat Robin Lehner for his third goal of the postseason.

The Knights fell to 3-5 in one-goal games this postseason. Montreal improved to 5-1 in overtime during the playoffs.

“I think this is one of the best, if not the best team I’ve played on,” Martinez said. “To come up short is obviously really disappointing. I’m proud of the way the guys battled.”

Lehner earned the start after he was the winning goalie in Game 4 and finished with 29 saves.

In the third period, he stopped Danault’s drive after Shea Theodore’s turnover and squeezed the pads to keep out Tyler Toffoli’s backhand with about seven minutes remaining.

“It’s a pretty empty feeling right now,” Lehner said. “It’s not easy to get to the Stanley Cup Final. We were right there. We have some things, all of us today, have to be a little better. We were right on the door.”

The Knights struggled to manage the puck in the first period and took two penalties as part of a tentative start.

Montreal took advantage on its second power play, as Martinez committed one of the Knights’ 11 giveaways in the period when his stick broke and he failed to clear the zone.

The puck went to defenseman Shea Weber at the top of the left faceoff circle, and the four-time winner of the hardest shot contest at All-Star Game weekend blew a slap shot past Lehner at 14:06.

But the Knights responded 48 seconds later when Smith dug the puck out of the corner and tipped Theodore’s shot/pass inside the post for his first goal since June 2.

Montreal regained the lead in the second period when rookie Cole Caufield notched his fourth goal of the series. He chipped the puck past defenseman Brayden McNabb in the neutral zone and went high on Lehner’s glove side for a 2-1 advantage at 9:36.

“We didn’t find another level, and they did,” DeBoer said. “They were opportunistic. They owned the key moments of the series. When they got a chance, they stuck it in the net. When they needed a big save, they got a big save.”

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

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