That might have been the best goaltending performance at the Bell Centre since the 2010 playoffs.
I hesitate to use the adjective, lest it bring the trolls and second-guessers crawling out of the woodwork, but Carey Price was positively Halakian Tuesday night.
Thing is, Price’s 44 saves did not come against the likes of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, superstars memorably stoned in that amazing playoff run.
Tampa Bay was missing its superstar forward, but the Lightning still managed to bombard Price.
The visitors were full value for the two points they took.
And were it not for Price’s heroics, the Lightning would have won easily in regulation time.
As it was, the Canadiens salvaged a point on the strength of their brilliant goaltender.
Through two periods, the Canadiens had a grand total of 13 shots on goal – six of which were off the stick of P.K. Subban (he finished with eight). No other Canadien had more than one shot through 40 minutes.
The night after being shut out in Boston and losing Steven Stamkos, the Lightning played a textbook road game.
They grabbed an early lead on Ryan Malone’s goal five minutes into the game, then skated, battled and checked the Canadiens into the ice until the final five minutes of the third period, when the allegedly home team got a fluke goal from Daniel Brière to send the game into OT after the Canadiens played shorthanded for the last 1:06 of regulation time.
Then there was another penalty in OT, which resulted in something I’d never seen since the new tie-breaking format was introduced: Because the Canadiens were two men short, the OT became 5 Lightning skaters against three defenders.
And Price held the fort. He raised his save percentage to .933 and lowered his goals-against average to 2.12 – spectacular numbers, especially when you look at what’s playing in front of him.
The Canadiens allow 31.5 shots per game, 22nd in the NHL. They’re 18th in shots per game, at 30.2. And these numbers have been trending in the wrong direction through the last few weeks.
There’s help on the way. Alexei Emelin is expected to be back in the lineup when the Canadiens play host to the Rangers on Saturday, and that will likely create a pressbox seat for Francis Bouillon, who is a team worst minus-9 while playing a ridiculous 17 minutes per game.
Of course, Michel Therrien – who was Frankie Boo’s junior coach in Granby – may decide Emelin’s return means a pressbox seat for Douglas Murray. The latter, however, is a hitter, a shot-blocker and a Gillesque asset on the penalty-kill.
The player whose return can’t come soon enough is Brandon Prust. His absence was particularly noteworthy on a night when, from the opening puck drop, Tampa Bay’s compete level exceeded that of the passive, soporific home side.
“We created some offence in the third period because we played with some urgency,” Therrien said. “But I am not impressed.”
Nor was the customary sellout crowd. Boos rained down from the upper reaches of the stands during numerous sequences when the visiting team dominated puck possession.
Credit to Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper for rallying his troops in the wake of Stamkos’s injury. The Lightning wanted this W more than the home team, which generated little offence, other than Subban’s lasers, and did not exert much in the way of aggressive forechecking.
Trailing 1-0 in the third period – and with fans growing restive – the Canadiens played a 1-2-2 formation better suited to lead protection. I’ll leave it to Chris and the other Commentariat Coaches to explain that.
The EGG line had its moments, particularly late in the third period when Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk began crashing the net. Ben Bishop had a quiet evening to that point. The Canadiens forced the giant goaltender into quick lateral moves maybe three times all night long, while Price was sliding miles to cope with Lightning shots coming from every direction.
The Canadiens are clinging to an Eastern Conference wild-card playoff spot despite losing five of the six games they’ve played in November. The rest of this month’s schedule includes three sets of back-to-backs – including two visits to Washington and Bell Centre dates with the Rangers, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
It doesn’t get any easier.
And the goaltender can’t play any better.
• 45 shots was the most Price has faced since the Hurricanes had 44 last March 7 in Carolina. He stopped 42 of them and the Canadiens won 4-2.
• Great stat tweeted by Cam Charron: With P.K. Subban on the ice tonight against Tampa, Montreal out-shot the Lightning. 17-11. When he was off, it was 24-3 for Tampa Bay.