If there was anyone left wondering why exactly Carey Price is being considered not only for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best netminder but also for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP, you need look no further than Montreal’s Game 6 victory.
As he has done all season, when the Canadiens needed Price to come up huge and steal a game for them, he did exactly that. After Montreal had dropped two straight to Ottawa, nearly erasing the 3-0 series lead they had opened up to begin the first round, Price turned aside all 43 shots he faced Sunday night, including 30 in the second and third periods combined, to send the Canadiens to the second round with a 2-0 victory.
Had it not been for Price, there’s little doubt the Senators would have at the very least been playing a seventh game, a game which they very well could have won carrying the momentum from three straight victories.
For the remainder of the playoffs, it’s going to be all about the play of Price for the Canadiens, just as it has been all season. Through Sunday’s games, no goaltender still alive in the post-season has made more saves. Price’s .939 save percentage is tied with Henrik Lundqvist as the best mark of goaltenders who have advanced to round two, and only Washington’s Braden Holtby has a better SP, with a .945 mark, but Monday's Game 7 could see his Capitals eliminated.
In the regular season, Price posted a .943 SP at 5-on-5, second only to Steve Mason’s .944 mark of goaltenders to play at least 2,000 minutes at even strength. Price also made the fourth most saves in the league, had the highest overall SP at all strengths with a .933 mark, was second in shutouts with nine and was the only netminder with a sub-2.00 goals-against average.
No one will mistake the Montreal defense as one of the greatest blueline corps in the league, but with Price in goal, it has erased nearly all of their faults this season. While the Senators were able to find holes in the Canadiens defense and, eventually, Price, he only allowed 12 goals over the course of a six-game series. In two overtime games, when even the slightest error could have cost the Canadiens, Price was perfect. No team relies on their goaltending as much as Montreal, but no team has the luxury of having arguably the greatest goaltender in the world to bail them out.
For much of the series, the Montreal offense wasn’t outstanding, but when the Senators wouldn’t go away and the Canadiens needed to find the back of the net, they capitalized. There’s much to be said for clutch scoring of that kind, but at some point they’ll need Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec and secondary scorers like Lars Eller and David Desharnais to step up.
Through the first round, P.K. Subban was their highest scoring player with a goal and four points. Dale Weise, for all he brings to the Canadiens lineup, isn’t looked upon as their go-to sniper. Yet Weise's two goals in Game 3 made him the Canadiens leading goal-scorer through the first round, tying him with Max Pacioretty. That will need to change if Montreal has Cup aspirations.
In defeat, the Senators showed promise for whatever may come next season. The run by Andrew Hammond was what put Ottawa in the playoffs, but there are some good, young, talented pieces in the Senators’ lineup. If they continue to build around players like Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone, add quality depth blueliners around Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci and can figure out a solution in goal, there’s no doubt this is a club that could be fantastic in the future.
What the six-game victory means for Montreal is the beginning of what could be a very deep run this post-season. If the offense comes alive, if the defense can take away the best of the opposition's chances and Price can continue to play the way he has, it wouldn’t be crazy to imagine the Canadiens hoisting the Stanley Cup.