And so it comes to an end...
The New York Rangers ended the Canadiens’ season Saturday evening in Madison Square Garden with a 3-1 victory in Game 6 of their opening round playoff series, taking the series 4-2. Carey Price will have to wait another year for a chance at a Stanley Cup run, and Henrik Lundqvist further cemented his reputation as an all-time great postseason performer.
If you’re going to steal a game, you need a little luck. When Alexei Emelin stepped up into a loose puck created by Philip Danault and Alex Radulov, it looked like fortune might be on the Habs’ side.
It wasn’t to be.
Mats Zuccarello scored his first goal of the evening on a power play early in the second period to even the game.
Leaving the penalty kill execution for another time, let's take a more detailed look at this first Rangers goal.
The Rangers power play sets up, Zuccarello holding the puck in the corner to Price’s left. Chris Kreider (20) screens Price low, and Pavel Buchnevich (89) establishes position in the slot.
Zuccarello moves the puck to Ryan McDonagh on the right point, but Price is able to find it past the double layer screen.
When McDonagh passes over to Mika Zibanejad (93), Price pushes over on his skates as Paul Byron closes off the shooting lane.
Zibanejad sees Zuccarello move in from the wall to the right face-off circle, and sends a cross ice pass above Emelin to Zuccarello, who controls it with his skates, moves it to his forehand, and releases a hard, but wobbling shot.
Price appears to be in position to make the save, and drops into his butterfly.
Somehow, the puck gets through between his glove and his body. Price is as shocked as anyone.
Price slides across the crease toward Zuccarello rather than push across on his skates, possibly anticipating a one-timer that never happens.
He controls his slide, engaging his left inside edge and raising his left knee as he brings his shoulders square to Zuccarello’s forehand.
His left shoulder is still tilted ever so slightly higher than his right as he brings his right knee up into his stance, just before he drops into his butterfly.
When he does drop into his butterfly, this slight residual shoulder tilt creates a puck-sized hole between his glove and his body, just above his pad.
Anyone who follows goalies closely knows that if there’s a hole, the puck will find it. This is no exception. The kicker on this one, of course, is that the hole is vertical. Zuccarello’s wobbling shot reaches Price with the perfect orientation to pass through this small space.
Even more amazing is that on this goal, the puck actually glances along the back of Price’s glove as it works its way past him. The backside of a goalie’s glove has a protective flap of padding that closes over the back of the wrist and hand. As if it wasn’t enough that the puck orients itself perfectly with the tiny hole it finds, Zuccarello’s shot hits this back cuff flap and pushes it out of the way as it goes through.
Could Price have played this first goal of the night differently? Probably. He likely had time to push across on his skates to his left, keep his shoulders more even and square, and eliminate the intermediate up and down motion that preceded his drop into butterfly.
Would it have mattered? Hard to tell. That tiny vertical hole might have been there anyway. If Zuccarello’s game winner later in the period is any indication, it would have been.
The Canadiens allow a cross ice pass from Kevin Hayes (13) to Zuccarello (36) after J.T. Miller (10) retrieves the puck below the goal line. Zuccarello’s shot isn't even on net, but it deflects off of Price’s toe and into the net.
Price recognizes Hayes as an uncontested threat, and steps up in preparation for a shot, while Jordie Benn looks to check Zuccarello in case of a rebound.
When Hayes makes his pass, Benn is unaware, and Price is committed high in the crease on the right.
Zuccarello’s redirection is heading across the crease, well outside the far post, until it hits Price’s toe and goes into the net.
Sure, this is bad luck for Price, but it’s the result of smart, solid play by the Rangers’ forwards, who outplayed the Habs deep in the zone to keep the play alive, and ultimately find Hayes alone in a dangerous position.
A vertical, puck-sized hole, a glove flap that bends, and a left skate toe. Those weren’t the reasons why the Habs lost Game 6 to the Rangers, but they were the difference between heading home to Montreal to play another game, and heading home to Montreal to wonder how this season ended so suddenly.
For Carey Price and the Habs, this was not how this season was supposed to end. The questions have just begun.