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Eyes on the Price: Backs Against the Wall

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Carey Price and the Canadiens drop Game 5 in overtime, and head to Madison Square Garden facing elimination

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game Five Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Well, here we are. After a huge offseason trade, 82 regular season games, a coaching change, and 5 playoff games, the Montreal Canadiens are staring into the jaws of a first round playoff defeat at the hands of Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers.

Whatever momentum it appeared the Canadiens had after their relatively easy Game 3 win is gone. Goals are not coming easy. The Rangers’ theoretically suspect defense has done an excellent job of stifling the Habs’ skilled forwards, Max Pacioretty in particular. Lundqvist’s playoff mastery is on full display, the King thriving in the midst of total chaos.

Game 5 at the Centre Bell was not for the faint of heart. Bodies and sticks were flying everywhere, appropriate to the stakes of the game. The Habs drew first blood when Artturi Lehkonen netted a forehand wraparound on Lundqvist with under 8 minutes to go in the opening period. Jesper Fast tied it up for the Rangers with his second of the series, shorthanded, nearly 4 minutes later. The Habs would regain the lead less than a minute later on Brendan Gallagher’s glove-side snipe from the slot, but the margin wouldn’t last. Brady Skjei deposited a rebound late in the second period off of a Rick Nash net drive, knotting the game at 2. The Rangers would win in overtime on Mika Zibanejad’s first goal of these playoffs.

Carey Price is going to have nightmares about Jesper Fast and Rick Nash should the Rangers eliminate the Habs on Saturday.

Fast (19) scored his second of the series on this center net drive, splitting the Habs D and beating Price between his knees. Shorthanded, no less.

Zibanejad (93) knocks a pass from Alex Galchenyuk out of the air, and races down the ice. He carries the puck along the left wing, crosses the Montreal blue line, then cuts to the middle of the ice. Fast drives to the net between Nathan Beaulieu and Jeff Petry, receives a pass from Zibanejad, controls the puck, and releases a hard, low shot that eludes Price as he drops into his butterfly.

This is a tough chance for Price. He has to respect the speed that Fast shows driving the middle of the ice, but the play doesn’t develop as a breakaway. By the time Fast controls the short vertical pass, he is at the near end of the slot. Price has retreated inside his crease, and still has slight rearward momentum.

The problem for a goaltender on a play like this is that as he retreats, his center of gravity moves backward. This weight shift means that he isn’t quite able to drive his knees down into butterfly as quickly as he would if he were set to the shot, pushing forward. Often, a goalie’s 5-hole will close slightly more slowly than usual in these situations, and his pads may slightly rise up off the ice. That’s what happens to Price. Fast gets off a clean, quick release, and the puck passes just over the blade of Price’s stick, between his knees.

On Skjei’s tying goal in the second period, there’s not a lot Price can do. Rick Nash (61) eludes the Habs D, circling behind the net, and receives a pass from Jimmy Vesey just below the goal line on Price’s glove side. He drives the net, protecting the puck from Gallagher and Plekanec, and shoots from the top left corner of the crease.

Price makes this save with his right pad, but the rebound goes through Shea Weber’s skates directly to Skjei, who deposits back through Weber’s legs and over Price’s lunge to his blocker side.

The game would remain even until 14 minutes into overtime, when Zibanejad catches up to Chris Kreider’s (20) deflected shot from the top of the left face-off circle and puts it past Price’s outstretched glove. There would be no Game 5 overtime miracle.

Ironically, given that the Rangers’ defensive inconsistency was supposed to be their Achilles heel against the Habs, defensive breakdowns have cost the Canadiens this series.

Price had to make a tremendous save on Mats Zuccarello early in the game, a mirror image of the technique he used to rob Kyle Turris of the Senators back in the regular season.

He showed the correct usage of a forehand stick check when he prevented Rick Nash from attempting a wraparound in the second period...

And he stoned Fast early in third to preserve the 2-2 tie, with an aggressive shoulder save against a well-placed shot.

The bottom line is that Price played just fine in Game 5. Fast’s goal was a more difficult play than it seemed, and there was little he could have done to prevent Skjei’s tying goal or Zibanejad’s overtime winner. Although there’s a certain amount of bad puck luck involved in at least two of these goals, all three of the scoring opportunities resulted from specific defensive miscues. One of them, in fact, begins with a poor decision 10 seconds earlier and 160 feet away (not the obvious one, either). But that’s a discussion for another time. There’s plenty of content about personnel and systems elsewhere on Habs Eyes on the Prize to ruminate over while we focus on Carey Price’s small piece of the ice.

For now, that piece of the ice is the most important red-trimmed blue paint around. The Canadiens have to win two in a row against Henrik Lundqvist while facing elimination. Search out the King’s record to see what that task will be like.

Carey Price may have to steal them both.