Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki celebrates his open net goal during the third period in Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights Tuesday, June 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. The Canadiens won 4-1. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Canadiens dominate Golden Knights 4-1 in Vegas, take 3-2 lead in Cup semifinal series

Canadiens 4 Golden Knights 1

(Montreal leads series 3-2)

LAS VEGAS — Carey Price stopped 26 shots Tuesday as the Montreal Canadiens handled the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1 to take a 3-2 lead in their Stanley Cup semifinal series.

Game 6 goes Thursday in Montreal, where a win would mean a trip to the finals against either Tampa Bay or the New York Islanders.

Montreal looked in control from the opening minutes, scoring midway through the first when Jesper Kotkaniemi buried a wonky rebound from Josh Anderson’s drive on Marc-Andre Fleury.

Eric Staal and Cole Caufield each widened the margin in the second, the latter coming on one of Montreal’s two power-play chances.

Nick Suzuki added an empty-netter for insurance in the final seconds, and a three point night, while silencing the crowd of 17,969. Fleury stopped 23-of-26 shots.

Former Habs winger Max Pacioretty finally got the Golden Knights on the board four minutes into the third for their lone marker.

The Canadiens were 1 for 2 with the man advantage, while the Knights went 0 for 1.

Staal made it 2-0 at the eight-minute mark of the second, beating Fleury cold from the point after a perfect feed from linemate Suzuki.

A Vegas clearing misfire on Montreal’s first power play of the night helped Corey Perry feed Caufield for his third goal of the playoffs.

Fleury got a hero’s welcome to the ice Tuesday after his Game 3 giveaway gaffe cost him the starting slot in favour of backup netminder Robin Lehner for Game 4.

But the Canadiens quickly sapped the energy from a normally raucous T-Mobile Arena.

Where the Habs stand in the series is secondary to how they approach each game, said Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson, who is filling in behind the bench following interim coach Dominique Ducharme’s positive COVID-19 test.

“Everybody’s feeling confident, everybody knows their role, and we’re playing exceptionally well,” Richardson said after Tuesday’s team skate.

“That’s going to continue whether we’re in the lead, whether we’re behind, tied, in overtime, start of game — that’s what we want, to keep that same mindset.”

Ducharme remains a constant presence, he added.

“We have been communicating in between periods,” Richardson said.

“Dom — just like he is when he’s there — he’s short and to the point, two or three points that are going to help our team get better in the next period. And that’s what we focus on. “

In Game 2, the Canadiens successfully neutralized a raucous capacity crowd, denying the Golden Knights what is a substantial home-ice advantage, considering the Habs only play before 2,500 fans in Montreal and the Vegas crowd is nearly 18,000.

On Tuesday, they did it again.

“We’re back on top of the other team in all three zones, and it’s difficult to play against — and frustrating,” Richardson said earlier Tuesday.

“If you can frustrate that home team, and they want to —maybe not put on a show for the home crowd, but they want to do well and they want to do something spectacular — we’re usually in the way of that, and it’s frustrating. So it usually bodes well for us in the long run.”