Carey Price. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
The Habs were down 3-1 in their second-round series against Tampa heading into Game 5 Saturday, but Montreal avoided elimination with a 2-1 win because of you-know-who (hint: his name rhymes with Carey Price) – & the Bolts now must start worrying about blowing a 3-0 series lead and going home.
Staring elimination in the face for the second straight game Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens scratched and clawed their way to their second consecutive victory in the second round against Tampa Bay, beating the Lightning 2-1 to force a Game 6 in Florida Tuesday. And although (insert sarcasm font/code here) you might not believe it, (end sarcasm font/code) Habs goalie Carey Price was one of the main reasons why – and one of the reasons why his team might do the virtually impossible and force a game 7 Thursday at Bell Centre.
Price wasn't exactly overwhelmed with shots in Game 5: Tampa Bay was outshot by Montreal in the first two periods, and the Bolts managed just six shots on him in the second frame. But it was the caliber of saves he made, including one on Brendan Morrow late in the second period and this one – arguably his best stop of the post-season – on Valtteri Filppula some seven-and-a-half minutes into the third (with the Habs clinging to a 1-0 lead):
Tampa Bay eventually did tie it near the midway point of the third on Stamkos' second of the post-season, but Price's low-wattage heroics kept them in it long enough for P-A Parenteau to score the game-winner with 4:07 left in regulation and cut the Lightning's series lead to 3-2. Once again, Price was his team's MVP. And for the second game in a row, his counterpart, Ben Bishop, was not his equal. He got the hook after surrendering three goals on 14 shots in 25 minutes of Game 4, Bishop then allowed a questionable marker to Devante Smith-Pelly nine minutes into the first period Saturday. That was one more questionable goal than Price allowed, and that was the difference in the decision. Bishop did end up stopping 27 of 29 Habs shots, but the playoffs are about making timely saves, and for the past two games, Price has had the edge in that department.
The Game 5 victory wasn't all Price's doing, of course. His teammates were disciplined – Tampa Bay didn't have a single power play opportunity, while Montreal had three – and the Canadiens were again the better possession team. But they're not quite out of the woods yet. The Lightning were the only NHL team this season not to suffer three consecutive losses, but that's what they're looking at if they don't win in front of their home fans at Amalie Arena.
That task may sound daunting to Habs fans, but then again, Tampa Bay hadn't lost two straight playoff games before now, either. This is an entirely different situation for many of their players, with the pressure ratcheted up massively with every shift and play. The intensity surged to new heights at the end of Game 5, when Stamkos and Canadiens star P.K. Subban – famous friends from their time as kids in Toronto – clashed with each other (with Subban drawing a roughing penalty at the 20:00 mark of the third). And it's likely to get nastier still as Montreal coach Michel Therrien does everything in his power to wring any kind of offense he can out of a lineup that often looks allergic to scoring.
The same goes for Bolts bench boss Jon Cooper, who got a goal from his captain and best player Saturday, but zilch from the rest of the lineup. Nikita Kucherov registered zero shots on net in 19:02 of ice time, while Filppula had just one shot on net and hasn't posted a single point in the past three contests. Tampa's secondary scorers need to make their presence felt, because if they don't, the pressure on Stamkos and Tyler Johnson will increase exponentially.
But you feel for those guys, because their challenge isn't some two-bit hayseed who's in Montreal's net – arguably the most high-pressure net in the NHL – because of injury, or a wet-behind-the-ears rookie with stars in his eyes and the wrong kind of butterflies in his stomach. No, they're up against the best professional hockey goaltender on the planet, and a guy who attended the Jonathan Toews Institute of Healthy Emotional Repression In The Pursuit of Athletic Excellence.
The acronym of that school isn't very catchy, but Price sure is. Catchy, blocky, stoppy, you name it. The 27-year-old is Mr. Everything for Montreal, and if the Lightning can't work their way out from underneath his thumb in the next five days, they're going to be heading home for the summer having blown a lead few teams ever do.