Lehkonen strikes in OT to send Canadiens to 1st Stanley Cup final since 1993
Montreal forward scores 1:39 into final frame off feed from Danault
The Montreal Canadiens are headed back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993 — the last time the franchise lifted hockey's holy grail.
Montreal forward Artturi Lehkonen scored 1:39 into overtime to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 during Thursday's Game 6, securing a 4-2 series win.
It was the third game of the series that required overtime.
After Canadiens defenceman and captain Shea Weber opened the scoring with an unassisted power-play goal in the first period, Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith would equalize less than a minute later.
Montreal's rookie forward Cole Caufield broke the deadlock with a skillful second-period marker, but Vegas defenceman Alec Martinez levelled the score early in the final frame.
WATCH | Lehkonen's OT marker sends Habs to Stanley Cup final:
Shortly into the overtime period, Lehkonen scored off a slick feed from Phillip Danault.
"I feel blessed, very blessed to be here with Montreal and to be in the Stanley Cup final is something amazing," said Danault, who grew up in Victoriaville, Que., and is in his sixth season with the Canadiens.
"Obviously, Cole has been scoring goals, too. We all participate and it's a team effort all series. I'm so proud of us."
Caufield was quick to redirect the spotlight back to the team's multiple veterans set to make their first Stanley Cup final appearance, such as Weber and Price.
"I'm just trying to take it all in and enjoy the moment," said the 20-year-old Caufield, who has played more NHL playoff games (15) than regular-season (10). "It's for the older guys."
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price continued his immense playoff form, making 37 saves in the win. Vegas turned back to Game 4 hero Robin Lehner, who stopped 29 shots.
"We wouldn't be here right now if we didn't believe," Price said. "We've believed this whole time and obviously we're ecstatic and we have a lot of work left to do."
WATCH | Fans celebrate during Habs game in downtown Montreal:
Montreal will look to achieve the first Canadian victory in a Stanley Cup Final since its own, 28 years ago, after Vancouver (1994, 2011), Calgary (2004), Edmonton (2006) and Ottawa (2007) fell short in their efforts.
Montreal improved to 5-1 in overtime games throughout these playoffs.
Golden Knights rue loss
On the other side, Golden Knights captain Mark Stone shouldered blame for the loss after going pointless in the series.
"Pretty terrible feeling," Stone said. "I'm the captain of this team, the leader of this team and take a lot of responsibility for what just occurred."
Lehner shared in the disappointment but expressed optimism.
On Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day in Quebec, a raucous capacity home crowd of 3,500 at Montreal's Bell Centre paled in comparison to the thousands of fans that celebrated on the streets surrounding the arena.
With similarities to the team's memorable run in the spring of 1993 — an underdog not expected to challenge the big boys — Montreal is into its NHL-record 33rd final since 1917-18 and will be looking to add to its league-topping 24 Cup banners.
WATCH | Stéphan Lebeau sees similarities between Habs, 1993 team:
The Canadiens clinched a berth in the title series on home ice for the seventh time since the league expanded in 1966-67, and the first since defeating the Islanders in Game 5 at the Montreal Forum on May 24, 1993.
"We're trying to keep it going one game at a time and not think things too much far ahead," said Lehkonen, the overtime hero. "I feel like we showed up today and it's a big win for us and we have four more to go."
Fans gathered outside the Bell Centre in the hours before puck drop on a sun-soaked Montreal holiday evening, with many wearing Canadiens jerseys, waving the province's Fleur-de-lis flag — or both.
Montreal will learn its Stanley Cup final opponent when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the New York Islanders in Game 7 of their semifinal series on Friday. The game will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca at 8 p.m. ET.
With files from The Canadian Press