Like so many other Canadiens fans, François Legault offered an online salute to Carey Price late Wednesday night. The Quebec Premier thanked the Canadiens goalie, referring to him as “Jesus” after his monumental effort in a 3-2 victory over the Golden Knights.
Price certainly was Montreal’s saviour as his overachieving team evened its series in the Stanley Cup playoffs at one win a piece.
After one of Price’s 29 stops, Alec Martinez and Ryan Reaves of Vegas looked confused. Both peered up at the video screen on the scoreboard to confirm what they thought they had or hadn’t seen. It was the type of magic that Siegfried & Roy performed at the Mirage for years.
Martinez was bearing down on the Canadiens net and merely had to flip a puck in from a few feet away to cut Montreal’s lead to 2-1. Fans inside T-Mobile Arena rose as they anticipated a goal. The shot may have caromed off Price’s right hip or pants leg or perhaps it was willed away by telekinesis, but it suddenly skittered overhead instead. Not even the replay could explain exactly what happened.
“I was using all of my extremities,” Price said mysteriously. He is a man of so few words and so many saves.
Paul Byron scored on a breakaway after that to put Montreal up 3-0 in the second period, a deficit just too large for Vegas to overcome.
The combatants renew acquaintances at the Bell Centre for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday and what looked improbable just a few days ago now seems within range. Despite a 4-1 thumping in Game 1, the Canadiens could head back to Las Vegas next week with the series hanging in the balance.
There are more than a few members of each team that could play a role in the outcome, but none more significant than Price and Marc-André Fleury, his immensely talented counterpart with the Golden Knights. Both are future Hall of Famers, and each is playing as if the clock has been turned back 10 years.
Price, 33, has spent his entire career in the NHL with Montreal and is still seeking his first Stanley Cup. Fleury is 36 and attempting to win another Cup with Vegas to go along with the three he already earned in Pittsburgh.
Both have dazzled in the first two meetings, with Price stopping 55 of 61 shots for a .931 save percentage, and Fleury 48 of 52 (.923). Price withstood a barrage of pucks over the final minutes to secure Wednesday’s triumph, while Fleury stopped a handful of dangerous attempts at the beginning of Game 1 that kept the Golden Knights from falling behind.
That both have been outstanding is not a surprise, especially to Peter DeBoer. Before he became the head coach in Vegas, DeBoer watched Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur from behind the bench in New Jersey and Joe Thornton in San Jose. All are certain first-ballot Hall of Famers.
He said there are big similarities between them, Fleury and Price.
“These guys have more money than they’ll ever spend in their lifetime,” DeBoer said this week. “They play because they love everything about the game, from showing up at the rink to practising, to travelling, to hanging out in the room.
“When you have done it for 20 years and show up with a smile on your face and say, ‘I want more,’ you are a rare breed. It is not an accident.”
Both Fleury and Price have had their share of luck and, in Price’s case, heartbreak. Wednesday’s victory was his first in the Stanley Cup semi-finals. It matters not that players throughout the NHL regard him as the best at his craft; until now, the teams with which he has played in Montreal have had too many flaws to go all the way.
On Thursday, the Canadiens’ Marc Bergevin was named one of the three finalists for the award that is given annually to the NHL’s top general manager. Several moves by him in the past year paid off as the club eliminated the Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets.
Bergevin acquired six Stanley Cup champions through trade or free agency since September, including wingers Tyler Toffoli and Corey Perry and centre Eric Staal. All have been excellent in the postseason. Although Vegas is only completing its fourth season, its lineup is also loaded with former Stanley Cup winners. Alex Pietrangelo, who won one as the captain in St. Louis, scored both of the Golden Knights’ goals in Game 2.
There is no mistaking however, where the spotlight will fall as the series progresses.
“It’s a great matchup,” DeBoer said of the opposing goalies. “I don’t think they look at it as Fleury against Price. It’s our group against their group and both goalies are a big part of each team.
“I’m anticipating both guys are going to be great every night and games are going to be decided by other factors.”
Fleury stopped 20 of 23 shots on Wednesday. The only one he possibly misplayed was Byron’s backhand on the breakaway. To complain about it is like grousing that Mike Trout only hit a fly ball to the warning track in his last at-bat after hitting back-to-back homers in two previous plate appearances.
Fleury came out of the net hoping to poke the puck away from the onrushing Byron, only to have it flipped over him.
“I regretted that decision as soon as I made it,” Fleury said. “I made up my mind too early. I shouldn’t have done that.”
Fleury, who grew up in the Montreal suburbs, is looking forward to returning to Quebec for the next two games.
“It will be nice,” he said. “I haven’t been back since last season before the quarantine. It’s always a building that’s fun to play in.”
Everyone else should be just as excited. It’s two of the game’s most elite netminders matching their skills and wits.
“That’s what you want to see in the series,” said William Karlsson, a centre for Vegas,. “They are two great goalies. I’ve watched Price on TV this season and it has been a joy to watch, and I’ve had front-row seats to watch [Fleury] these last couple of years.
“It’s great to see the goalies bring a lot of show to the show.”