MONTREAL (AP) — Luke Richardson didn’t envision his debut as an NHL head coach coming this way.
But he’ll take it.
Josh Anderson scored his second goal of the game at 12:53 of overtime and Carey Price made 43 saves as Montreal beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup semifinal series hours after learning interim coach Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19.
“I would have thought my first chance running an NHL bench would be an exhibition game,” said Richardson, a Canadiens assistant temporarily promoted to the top job in Ducharme’s absence. “But it happened to be in third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in overtime, so it’s pretty exciting.
“We’re just hoping to keep this thing going and we’ll get the whole group back together.”
Cole Caufield also scored for Montreal in front of 3,500 fans at the Bell Centre as the Canadiens won in overtime for the fourth time in the playoffs.
Ducharme’s first test came back positive Friday morning before a subsequent result provided confirmation. He addressed the team before and after the game virtually, and was in communication with Richardson and his staff between periods.
“It was very difficult,” Anderson said of not having Ducharme present. “Most of us were pretty confused, too. Us staying in such a tight bubble, and not going anywhere outside.
“When you lose your head coach, it’s obviously very tough.”
Nicolas Roy and Alex Pietrangelo scored for Vegas. Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 24 stops — and one major gaffe on Anderson’s tying goal late in regulation — for the Golden Knights.
“We liked the way we played,” Vegas captain Mark Stone said. “Starting from the top, we have to score goals.”
The Golden Knights will have to do that when the best-of-seven showdown resumes Sunday night.
Anderson’s winner came after he knocked down an pass from Jesperi Kotkaniemi at the offensive blue line. The puck fell to Paul Byron, who froze Fleury before passing back to Anderson for his third goal of the playoffs.
“It looked like we had a lot more energy than them (in OT),” Anderson said. “We found a way.”
Price stymied Vegas time and again until his teammates finally found traction.
“It was incredible,” Anderson said of the goaltender’s performance. “He kept us in the game, all game.
“We wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this without him.”
After the Golden Knights, who dominated much of the first two periods and led 30-8 on the shot clock through 40 minutes, killed off a penalty to start the third, Pietrangelo scored his fourth goal of the playoffs — and third in the last two games — under Price’s blocker on an odd-man rush at 2:22.
Vegas appeared to be cruising to a series lead late in the third when Fleury, who was solid all night up to that point, misplaying the puck behind his net and gifting Anderson his second into an open net with 1:55 remaining.
“Those type of events are tough to recover from,” Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer said. “We talked between the third and the overtime about trying to get our mojo back.
“There’s no doubt that carried into the overtime for us a little on the negative side, and for sure gave them some pop.”
Price said it has been an up-and-down season.
“But I feel like we’ve always responded well to the adversity,” Price said. “(Game 3) was just another example of that.
“Not having Dom behind the bench was just another twist.”
The NHL said in a statement before Game 3 announcing Ducharme’s positive test that all of the Canadiens’ players, fellow coaches and team staff came back with negative results both Thursday and Friday.
“Things went fast, and maybe that’s better off,” Richardson said. “We didn’t have too much time to think about it.”
Following a first period in which the Golden Knights carried the play and held a 16-3 shot edge after Montreal had great starts in Games 1 and 2, Vegas finally got on the board at 3:16 of the second on a gift from Canadiens winger Eric Staal.
The veteran forward inexplicably threw a pass in front of his own net that was intercepted by Roy, who scored his second.
Montreal got that one right back just 38 seconds later when Nick Suzuki blocked a shot and fed a pass ahead to a streaking Caufield.
Montreal’s rookie sniper moved in alone and scored his second over Fleury’s glove, setting the stage for more late drama.
“We just don’t quit,” Price said. “We’ve gone through a lot of adversity.
“We keep responding.”
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