There’s a hackneyed line repeated often by people around the game of hockey about the need for teams and individuals to show up for the entirety of each contest. By that metric, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was an abject failure in his team’s 5-4 overtime victory over Tampa Bay on Wednesday night.
On the other hand, by the equally clichéd standard that the only thing that counts is the win, Price was on the right side of the equation.
The truth falls somewhere in the middle. Price had a lousy three periods of regulation time, where his failings undermined a dominant performance from the team in front of him. But, remarkably, things shifted in the overtime, with Price standing his ground as the Canadiens’ attack faltered, which gave Montreal enough breathing room to secure the win.
Montreal certainly dominated the game in regulation. At the end of the first, the Canadiens had a 14-4 lead in shots. Lightning rookie J.T. Brown was asked about the differential by Fox Sports Florida at the intermission, and he didn’t overcomplicate things.
“We’ve got to get more shots,” he said simply. It was not be. The gap grew wider as the game went on, and by the arrival of overtime the shots were 35-16 in favour of the Habs.
It wasn’t a case of the Canadiens just shooting from everywhere either; they had a dramatic edge in the highest quality chances. Tampa Bay’s defence failed to hold the net again and again against Montreal’s attackers, both big and small.
Daniel Briere (who quietly had himself quite a game) got a pass at point blank range of the net and all the time he needed to pick his spot. Tomas Plekanec, Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty all had similar opportunites. David Desharnais had both an initial chance and time for a rebound all alone in front; later he was the recipient of a perfect terrible giveaway by Nate Thompson in the same area. Brendan Gallagher, again in the low slot, was gifted a turnover by Ondrej Palat and put a sneaky backhand at the Lightning cage.
And here we’re just talking about the pucks that didn’t go in on brilliant chances, which filters out events like Brian Gionta’s shorthanded breakaway (the initial shot was stopped; he potted the rebound) or Eric Brewer’s miserable coverage of a streaking Thomas Vanek that allowed Montreal’s vital fourth goal. For good measure, we’re also ignoring perfectly good chances featuring less incredible breakdowns, like the two Tomas Plekanec had off Radko Gudas (including one goal) and all of the shots that came off deflections or slightly bad angles.
Montreal blistered Anders Lindback with quality chance after quality chance, and somehow the lightly regarded Lightning goalie kept his team in the game.
Of course, he had some help from Price, who faced just four uber-high quality chances in regulation. He allowed goals on three of them (as well as getting beat by a Steven Stamkos shot from a bad angle). Overall, he surrendered four goals on just 16 shots through three periods, bringing memories of poor goalies past to mind:
All that ended in overtime, which is what Montreal coach Michel Therrien wanted to talk about after the game:
There’s a temptation here to say that Price, like clutch goalies before him, closed the door when it mattered most. That’s hogwash. This was a playoff game where the teams were trading one-goal leads; the whole contest was built entirely of ‘clutch’ minutes.
What Price did manage to do was shake off 60 minutes where he was thoroughly outplayed by a not terribly remarkable goalie. He managed to park an hour of hockey during which time he was the single biggest reason his team wasn’t winning the game. He was able to shut that all out, and stop three Grade A chances in an overtime period after showing no ability to do so for much of the game.
And thus, despite the game being a near-run thing, there is no shortage of positives for Montreal. The team’s exceptional goalie (Price had an off night but there's no question as to his talent) shrugged off what must have been exceptional pressure, refusing to crack under the weight of his own disappointment. The Canadiens dominated a Lightning team that should have been a near-equal, winning even though they were out-goalied. Most importantly, the Habs now have a series lead, and off a road game no less.
In Tampa Bay, despite some strong individual performances (Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn were excellent), the news is harder to digest. Even with a strong goaltending performance (from a player they can’t count on to provide another), the team lost. Outside of net, the difference between the two clubs was staggering. Down 1-0, the Lightning also may have to live without Ondrej Palat, who left the game after one shift in the third period and did not return, something that had Tampa Bay's coach shaking his head:
As bad as things looked at times, both the Canadiens and Price come out of this contest with something to build on. And the list of obstacles the Lightning need to find a way to overcome just got larger.
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