Let’s be honest.
Were it not for the heroics of Carey Price, your Montreal Canadiens would not be in the playoffs.
But as we say in this red-hot – and, this week, unseasonably cold – hockey city, what have you done for me lately?
Heading into Game 1 in Tampa Bay, the Canadiens goaltender was 4-14 in his previous 18 postseason starts.
Price’s overall playoff record was 9-17. His save percentage: a very ordinary .905.
But .905 is better than .750.
Through 60 minutes against the Lightning, Price was beaten four times on 16 shots.
There were turnovers to create some Tampa Bay chances.
And Steven Stamkos scores against many NHL goaltenders.
But still …
The ghosts of playoffs past are never far from fans’ memories in Montreal.
Through three periods, Carey Price in 2014 was not Jaroslav Halak in 2010. That role was played by Anders Lindback, as the Tampa Bay goaltender faced a barrage of 35 shots.
And when the Canadiens blew two third-period leads, fans had to asking some questions about their goaltender.
Price answered them in OT. He made nine saves, including a game-saver on Alex Killorn, the kid who stayed at Harvard after Louis Leblanc, his friend from from Montreal’s West Island suburbs, left school to go off and ruin his career.
Killorn and Stamkos were the best players in blue jerseys on a night dominated by the guys in white.
In his postgame press conference, Michel Therrien cited “contributions from everyone”, and the stat sheet bears out the coach’s analysis:
• No fewer than 11 Canadiens skaters made the scoresheet.
• The Thomas Vanek-David Desharnais-MaxPacioretty combined for 17 shots on goal. Vanek had seven, plus two that were blocked. Desharnais, shooting more often than is his wont, had six.
• Josh Gorges played 28 minutes and, uncharacteristically, didn’t block a shot. But his defensive alertness prevented a least two Lightning goals.
• Daniel Brière picked up an assist to run his playoff point total to 110 in 109 games. Brière added playmaking punch to a fourth line that spent long stretches in the Tampa Bay end, thanks to the speed and on-the-puck tenacity of Michäel Bournival (playing the first postseason game of what I hope will be a long Canadiens career) and Dale Weise, the trade acquisition whose OT goal had Marc Bergevin hugging everyone in the Canadiens suite at the St. Pete Forum.
• Lars Eller, back from a bout with the flu, had a goal and an assist, as did his linemate, Brian Gionta. Eller added four hits to match the line’s LW, Rene Bourque.
• Tomas Plekanec scored the first-period goal that deflated the home crowd 19 seconds after Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring. Pleks won 16 of 29 faceoffs and played 2:04 of the four minutes the Canadiens were shorthanded.
Heading into Game 2 on Friday, Therrien enjoys the luxury of deploying three lines that excelled in Game 1 – and one that was OK. Playing with Pleks and the customarily energetic Brendan Gallagher, Brandon Prust struggled a bit in his first game since March 18. He’ll be better as the series progresses.
If Tampa bay isn’t better on Friday, the series could end quickly. One need look no further than last spring’s Montreal-Ottawa series for evidence that losing the first game on home ice is not an ideal start.
With the exception of Victor Hedman and Radko Gudas, who had nine hits, Tampa Bay’s D struggled against the Canadiens’ speed and peristence. Mattthew Carle had three giveaways, Sami Salo two. Eric Brewer had difficulty with the Canadiens’ speed and was beaten badly by Brière on Weise’s winner..
Not that the Canadiens shone on the back end. Mike Weaver had a rough night, as did Alexei Emelin. P.K. Subban looked shakey early on but improved as the game progressed; he still hangs on to the puck too long. Andrei Markov played 33:41, high on both teams, but had no SoG and was minus-2.
I thought this game was won by the forwards, who worked hard to keep the puck in the Lightning zone for long stretches and fired 44 shots at Lindback.
Most of the offensive pressure, however, came at even strength. The Canadiens’ power play continues to fire blanks: No goals since March 25 – nine games and counting.
But the PP’s ineptitude was a minor blemish on a solid effort.
“We kept our composure,” Therrien said. “We stuck to the game plan, and we were rewarded at the end.”
If the Canadiens play this well in Game 2 – and if Price is as sharp as he was in OT – the Lightning could be travelling north in a big hole.
• 2,200-plus Comments on the game blog. I guess it’s the playoffs, eh?
• The victory dance: