You need good goaltending to go far in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It also helps when your main man is doing a large share of the heavy lifting.
That's exactly the situation we're seeing in the Montreal Canadiens vs. Vegas Golden Knights series. The goaltending took center stage in Game 1 and should continue to be a huge storyline as the series progresses. You have Carey Price, a guy tasked with being the backbone of an underdog in the final four, and Marc-Andre Fleury, a Vezina Trophy finalist having one of the best seasons of his career.
If you're Hockey Canada, you're loving it. You know both goalies will be in the running to make the 2022 Olympic team, should NHL teams indeed make an appearance in China next year. The goalies are coming off of vastly different regular seasons: Fleury, as mentioned, was one of the best netminders all season long. Price, on the other hand, had one of the toughest seasons of his career until it truly began to matter. Find a better early playoff MVP candidate. Tough, right?
For Price, his inclusion, regardless of his 2020-21 season, was a given. His 2014 Olympic performance was spectacular and he was equally as good at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He hasn't represented Canada since, but given his status as one of the greatest goalies of his generation, Price was always going to be penciled in as the No. 1 goaltender. Fleury, though, wasn't guaranteed. He hasn't actually played a game with Canada internationally since the 2004 World Junior Championship, and he's 36 – 37 once the Olympics begin. But with how incredible he's been this year, Fleury has truly given Price a run for his money – and, to many, he's the true No. 1.
It's quite the situation to be in. Having to choose between two of the best goaltenders in the league on a team that, realistically, doesn't need world-saving performances every night, especially against Germany or China in Group A. Whomever starts the game against the United States is essentially the guy tasked with taking the team the distance. Canada's road to gold could be an easy one, but they still need someone to take the mantle. So while this playoff meeting is still far too early to get a read on who the No. 1 should be, it's at least fun to watch, right?
In Fleury's case, his age means he could see his game take a step back next year – but that's all speculative, of course. Canada will bring three goaltenders, and Price seems like a lock no matter what as long as he's healthy. Assuming Fleury is still the star he is today, or even if he steps a bit back, he still looks ahead of guys like Carter Hart, Darcy Kuemper, Jordan Binnington or Mackenzie Blackwood right now.
Kuemper is coming off a strong end to a World Championship performance and if you look past a couple of rocky starts early on, he was one of the team's best players when it mattered. That could help him earn a spot as the third goalie, or Canada could look to one of the younger guys like Hart or Blackwood to give them experience prior to the 2026 Olympics, when Fleury should be retired and Price will be well past his prime.
But the third goalie doesn't matter when you've got such a short tournament. For a team to make the finals, they only play six games. As long as Price and Fleury stay healthy, the third goalie might only sit on the bench against China. So watching what those two do now in the Stanley Cup playoffs should be exciting for Canadian hockey fans who want a glimpse into what should be the main duo in Beijing. The Tampa Bay/New York series is a focus on Russian goaltending with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Semyon Varlamov – and if you want to talk about a crowded goalie battle, Russia definitely has it behind Vasilevskiy. But in the other series, we're seeing two of the best Canadians showing why they're so highly regarded right now.
Of course, this could all be a moot point if NHLers do not participate in the Olympics and are forced to go with options elsewhere – such as Zach Fucale, Eddie Pasquale, or even a younger name like Logan Thompson or Stuart Skinner. But if they don't, and Price and Fleury do indeed make up two of the nation's goaltenders next year, Canada's goaltending should be in a good spot to help challenge for gold for the third time in four tournaments.