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

Reasonable minds can disagree right here, however: The most scrutinized place in sports activities simply is likely to be the beginning goaltender in Montreal, the place reward and criticism and comparisons to legends are doled out by the minute, in two languages, with out a lot as a break for lunch.

Jacques Plante lived this life, and so did Ken Dryden, and so did Patrick Roy, and so have so many others, and so, too, has Carey Price, who has performed extra video games with the Canadiens than all of them, and extra seasons.

Beneath the Coupe Stanley banners that they helped increase however he has not, Price skated onto the ice Friday for the first Cup finals recreation in Montreal in almost three many years to a rousing ovation at Bell Centre. He skated off about two-and-a-half hours later, after a 6-Three defeat to Tampa Bay, ever farther from including his identify to the solely trophy that has eluded him, and the just one that issues.

All three video games of the finals have ended the similar manner, with Tampa Bay scoring extra objectives than Montreal, and although there are different, nuanced causes that designate why the Lightning are on the precipice of successful their second consecutive Cup in 9 months, a prevailing one is moderately unfamiliar to the Canadiens: They have the inferior goalie.

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

Until Friday night time, Price had not been made obtainable to the information media since final Sunday, the day earlier than the sequence began, when his responses in sum contained roughly as many syllables as objectives allowed this sequence. That whole now stands at 13, or eight greater than allowed by his Lightning counterpart, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has confronted 18 extra pictures than Price at even energy, however has saved a far greater share in these circumstances (.954 to .840).

The distinction between them was most pronounced in Game 2, which Vasilevskiy snatched from the Canadiens, saving 42 of 43 pictures, whereas Price appeared to misplay ever so barely the game-turning objective in the second interval, anticipating a backhand shot from Barclay Goodrow as an alternative of a cross-circle go that Blake Coleman poked in whereas falling.

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, proper, has outplayed Price in the sequence.Credit…Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Discussing Vasilevskiy’s evolution, Lightning Coach Jon Cooper praised Price’s consistency and his calm demeanor, and the way it took time for him to develop into that.

“It’s still his time, but he’s been in the league for 15-plus years,” Cooper stated. “I think torches get passed. I think Carey is still carrying the torch, but it’s getting passed.”

Even by pandemic requirements, this has been a tumultuous season for Price, whose longtime goaltending coach, Stephane Waite, was fired in March. After lacking the closing 13 video games due to a concussion, Price truly performed fewer video games (25) than his backup (29).

But he opened the playoffs by rescuing the Canadiens, muzzling Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in overcoming a three-games-to-one deficit towards Toronto. Then he outplayed the final two winners of the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s prime goalie — Connor Hellebuyck of Winnipeg and Marc-Andre Fleury of Vegas — to advance to his first finals.

Just as soon as earlier than had Price reached so far as the league semifinals, and he lasted barely two durations of Game 1 towards the Rangers in 2014, doomed by a knee harm sustained when Chris Kreider thundered into him. He had waited 14 seasons for his first finals look, and when the sequence lastly shifted to Montreal on Friday, not many followers had been there to observe it.

Despite pleas by the Canadiens to extend capability at Bell Centre, public well being authorities in Quebec continued to limit attendance to three,500. The choice exasperated gamers and Dominique Ducharme, the Canadiens coach, who returned on Friday from a 14-day quarantine after contracting the coronavirus, and puzzled why many hundreds extra followers had been permitted to congregate outdoors.

Only Three,500 followers had been allowed inside Bell Centre, however hundreds gathered outdoors throughout the recreation.Credit…Andrej Ivanov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“As much as it could have been a way to reward people for getting their two doses, it could have been an incentive to increase vaccinations,” Ducharme stated in French on Friday morning. “It could have been a way to reward fans who have spent 14 or 15 months in isolation and have the chance to participate in a moment like this.”

Those who did make it inside watched the Lightning rating twice inside the first three and a half minutes or so of every of the first two durations. There had been transferring screens and passiveness on the penalty kill, gradual line adjustments and odd-man rushes, a smooth objective that trickled previous Price. When Tampa Bay added a fifth, late in the third interval, the sequence started with an egregious Montreal turnover and ended with a rebound Price couldn’t corral.

“We made too many mistakes,” Ducharme stated. “And they make you pay cash on those mistakes.”

Considering how they cling to historical past in Montreal, it has not gone unnoticed how these Canadiens have echoed the metropolis’s final Cup winner again in 1993. That group additionally completed low in the standings — third in the outdated Adams Division — however rode Roy to a report 24th championship.

By 27, Roy had hoisted two Cups. By 27, Price had received the Hart Trophy, given to the N.H.L.’s most respected participant; a Vezina; and an Olympic gold medal. Now 33, and deep right into a luminous profession with the similar fabled group, Price remains to be looking for his first championship. Unless he — and his group — begin enjoying higher, until he, too, can steal a win or two or 4, starting with Game four on Monday night time, Price should defer that dream one other 12 months.

“We don’t have a choice,” he stated.