Lightning Close In on the Stanley Cup, and Carey Price Can’t Stop Them

Lightning Close In on the Stanley Cup, and Carey Price Can’t Stop Them
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Lightning Close In on the Stanley Cup, and Carey Price Can’t Stop Them

Lightning Close In on the Stanley Cup, and Carey Price Can’t Stop Them

Reasonable minds may disagree here, but: The most scrutinized position in the sport may well be the starting goalie in Montreal, where praise, criticism and comparisons to legends are distributed by the minute, in two languages, without even a lunch break.

Jacques Plante lived that life, as did Ken Dryden, and Patrick Roy too, and so many others, and also Carey Price, who has played more games with the Canadiens than all of them, and more seasons.

Under the Stanley Cup banners they helped lift but he didn’t, Price skated on the ice Friday for the first game of the Cup Final in Montreal in nearly three decades to a rousing standing ovation at the Bell Center . He skated about two and a half hours later, after a 6-3 loss at Tampa Bay, still further adding his name to the only trophy that escaped him, and the only one that matters.

All three games of the Finals ended similarly, with Tampa Bay scoring more goals than Montreal, and while there are other nuanced reasons as to why the Lightning are set to win their second straight Cup in nine months, one is rather unknown to the Canadians: they have the bottom keeper.

“I can definitely play better,” Price said afterwards. “It’s just not good enough so far.”

Until Friday night, Price had not been made available to the media since last Sunday, the day before the start of the series, when his answers basically contained about as many syllables as the series allowed for goals. That total now stands at 13, eight more than allowed by his Lightning counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy, who faced 18 more shots than Price evenly but recorded a much higher percentage in those circumstances (0.954 to 0.840).

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The difference between them was most pronounced in Game 2, which Vasilevskiy snatched away from the Canadiens, saving 42 of 43 shots, while Price appeared to play the deciding goal very slightly poorly in the second period, anticipating a backhand shot from Barclay instead. Goodrow. a crossed collar that Blake Coleman sank down falling.

Discussing Vasilevskiy’s evolution, Lightning coach Jon Cooper praised Price’s consistency and calm demeanor, and how long it took him to get there.

“It’s still his time, but he’s been in the league for over 15 years,” Cooper said. “I think the torches have passed. I think Carey still carries the torch, but it’s passing.

Even by pandemic standards, it has been a tumultuous season for Price, whose longtime goaltending coach Stéphane Waite was fired in March. After missing the last 13 games with a concussion, Price has actually played fewer games (25) than his replacement (29).

But he opened the playoffs by saving the Canadiens, gagging Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner by closing a three-game-one deficit against Toronto. He then dominated the last two winners of the Vézina Trophy, awarded to the league’s top goaltender – Connor Hellebuyck of Winnipeg and Marc-André Fleury of Vegas – to advance to his first final.

Just once before, Price had reached the semifinals of the league, and he lasted barely two Game 1 periods against the Rangers in 2014, doomed by a knee injury sustained when Chris Kreider slammed into him. He had waited 14 seasons for his first final appearance, and when the series finally moved to Montreal on Friday, few fans were around to watch it.

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Despite calls from Canadians to increase the capacity of the Bell Center, Quebec public health authorities continued to restrict attendance to 3,500 people. The decision infuriated the players and Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme, who returned from a 14-day quarantine on Friday after contracting the coronavirus, and questioned why thousands more fans were allowed to congregate at outside.

“As much as it could have been a way of rewarding people for having received their two doses, as much as it could have been an incentive to increase the vaccinations,” Ducharme said in French on Friday morning. “It could have been a way to reward the fans who spent 14 or 15 months in isolation and are lucky enough to be part of a time like this.”

Those who made it inside saw the Lightning score twice in the first three and a half minutes or so of each of the first two periods. There were shifting screens and passivity on the penalty spot, slow line changes and reckless runs, a soft goal that passed Price. When Tampa Bay added a fifth at the end of the third period, the streak began with a huge turnaround from Montreal and ended with a rebound that Price couldn’t cash.

“We made too many mistakes,” said Ducharme. “And they charge you cash on those mistakes.”

Considering how they cling to history in Montreal, it hasn’t gone unnoticed how these Canadians echoed the last City Cup winner in 1993. This team also finished low in the standings – third in the old Adams division – but stepped Roy up to a 24th championship record.

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At 27, Roy had hoisted two Cups. At 27, Price had won the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player; a Vézina; and an Olympic gold medal. Now 33 years old and embarked on a bright career with the same legendary team, Price is still looking for his first championship. Unless he – and his team – start playing better, unless he too can steal a win or two or four, starting with Game 4 on Monday night, Price will have to postpone that dream for another year.

“We have no choice,” he said.

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