After it was over, the man of the hour was standing off to the side, drinking coconut juice and waiting for the rookie in the next stall over to finish with the thicket of cameras.
When the media were done with Brendan Gallagher, it was the goalie’s turn to bathe in the spotlight.
For if Carey Price is to bare the weight of blame for the Montreal Canadiens’ recent failures, he must be showered with the glory of winning an eminently losable game through sterling goaltending and a little good fortune.
It’s more than slightly ridiculous to finger the goalie, and only the goalie, when a team loses. It is somewhat less so to give one plaudits when he makes the sort of saves Price did this night.
“Carey kept us in that game, if it weren’t for him it wouldn’t have been close,” opined Habs captain Brian Gionta.
Little wonder, then, that the lanky 25-year-old looked as relaxed as he has in weeks after a white-knuckle 3-2 win against struggling Tampa Bay in which he repelled 32 of 34 shots.
By no means was this one an oil painting – the Lightning hit the goalposts four times in all, and at points Price was floundering with his positioning – but it was a win in which Price, who had given up 12 goals on his last 53 shots and had been pulled in his last two starts, played well and was occasionally brilliant.
Afterward he was in an expansive mood.
The last few days, he admitted, have been a bit of an ordeal. For the first time this season the Habs failed to gain even a single point in three consecutive games. Fans at the Bell Centre had the pitchforks and torches readied had Price surrendered a passel of goals.
Playing goal for the Montreal Canadiens has been described as the loneliest job in sports. Gionta said the stresses of the position are a good reason to play forward.
Price half-jokingly agreed after this game.
“My kids aren’t going to be goalies, first. They’re going to play baseball, probably,” said Price, who doesn’t have any children. “I think that’s something that I’ve come to realize, that it’s easy for people to pick on a goaltender because you’re the last line of defence. But at the end of the day, you’re out there with your teammates, there’s five other guys on the ice, and you can’t try to shoulder everything yourself, it’ll drive you crazy.”
Price said he spoke with his father Jerry, a former goalie, about his recent dip in form, and the advice he got was straightforward.
“It was a bit of a tough week, whenever you get 18 or whatever odd goals scored on you (as a team), that’s tough, but as a professional you’ve got to keep battling through it. I talked to my dad about it, and he just said that you have to keep battling through it, there’s no other shortcut, if there was a shortcut through this then somebody would have figured it out by now. The only way is to keep working,” he said.
Sure there were lucky breaks in that Tampa struck iron three times in the early going, but a slick first-period blocker save on Lightning rookie Richard Panik may have been a result of that work. Another may be a miraculous leg save in the second on Martin St. Louis, executed as Price lay on his stomach.
One game won’t quiet the skeptics – Price has been around long enough to know that – but it does create a little bit of breathing room.
Given the workout the Lightning gave to his posts, he also joked that a reward could be in the offing.
“I got to take ‘em out to dinner or something. They were great, they had a good game,” he laughed.
If the win was a relief, it will only be a temporary one.
This is a team that has a long way to go to whip itself into playoff shape – they gave up multiple odd-man rushes, and the Lightning had ample opportunities to run away with it, even without the goalposts.
Teddy Purcell, guilty of spurning a glorious opportunity with Price at his mercy early in the first, once again blew a gilt-edged chance in the third, firing the puck into Price’s leg pads with the goalie at his mercy.
But the results are the thing, and Alex Galchenyuk’s sixth goal in eight games and Gionta’s two markers, including a last-gasp power-play winner after P.K. Subban made sure the refs noticed former teammate Benoit Pouliot holding him, paved the way.
The Habs are now an improbable 7-1-1 in the second of back-to-back games this season, and will enter Saturday’s tilt with the Washington Capitals – their fifth game in eight days – in the knowledge that the rot has been stopped.
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