Montreal Canadiens right wing Tyler Toffoli (73) is mobbed by teammates after scoring the game-winning goal following overtime NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets, in Montreal, Monday, June 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Montreal Canadiens right wing Tyler Toffoli (73) is mobbed by teammates after scoring the game-winning goal following overtime NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets, in Montreal, Monday, June 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Underdogs once again, Canadiens face tough test against top-ranked Golden Knights

First cross-border matchup in the NHL this season

LAS VEGAS — A difficult challenge awaits the Montreal Canadiens tonight as they enter their Stanley Cup semifinal as underdogs against the host Vegas Golden Knights.

The top-ranked Golden Knights won an NHL-best 40 games in the shortened 56-game regular season and tied Colorado for the highest point total in the league – 23 points more than Montreal in the standings.

But the Canadiens have been in this position twice already this post-season.

They were not expected to beat the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round, nor were they favoured to overcome the third-place Winnipeg Jets in the second round. The team silenced critics in both cases and are riding a seven-game win streak that includes a sweep of the Jets.

It’s not all familiar territory for the Habs, though.

The Montreal-Vegas series is the first cross-border matchup in the NHL this season, made possible by a federal exemption allowing teams to bypass 14-day quarantine requirements.

The Canadiens will also need to overcome the roar of roughly 18,000 fans inside Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena – a stark contrast from the empty Canadian arenas during the regular season and even the 2,500 fans permitted inside Montreal’s Bell Centre during the playoffs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.

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