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No matter how hopeless, no matter how far

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The Canadiens have an improbable road to victory, but goaltending like they got in Game 4 makes it seem a bit more likely.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

We all hoped it would happen. A hope so fragile that even speaking it aloud seemed to somehow cause it to disappear. But in our hearts, as fans, we always hoped this team would find a way back into this series, maybe even go the distance.

We’ve borne this hope through crushing defeats, but last night we took the first step on this quest. As Don Quixote said, “To follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.”

Last night, the Montreal Canadiens certainly beat the odds in order to win the game. When a team controls only 40% of the shot attempts and 28% of the expected goals, they will definitely lose a lot more games than win.

To underline this point, MoneyPuck.com has a fun thing called the ”Deserve to Win O’Meter.” Basically the website tallies up all of the shots and their expected-goal values, then simulates the game 1,000 times. According to the results I got from this fun little exercise, Montreal wins 13.9% of the time with last night’s performance.

The one thing that isn’t accounted for is that the model assumes each team receives league-average goaltending. This makes sense statistically as goaltending can fluctuate wildly, so this model removes a variable that is difficult to predict.

Well, last night that variable had a name: Carey Price. Price has received a lot of criticism throughout this series, some of it from me. Last night there was very little to criticize. Unlike Don Quixote, Price was not tilting at windmills. He faced down a very real and very determined giant called the Tampa Bay lightning.

Price let in two goals. Statistically, a league-average goalie would have let in four. This is the sort of performance that we’ve come to expect from Montreal’s netminder throughout these playoffs. However, fatigue has seemed to take a toll more recently. And why not? He’s faced 643 shots in the playoffs. That’s second to only Andrei Vasilevskiy, of whom Price is six years the senior.

Perhaps that extra day of rest between games did Price good. Last night he certainly showed that commitment to the detail we saw earlier in the playoffs. Take this save for instance:

Price is watching one of the most talented players in the league, Nikita Kucherov, come around uncontested from the corner. You can see the goaltender subtly adjust to square up to the puck without losing his post position. Then, after Kucherov sells pass, Price begins to do a power slide (which is where a goalie goes from standing to a slide) but realizes it’s a shot and manages to hold his position.

After the shot, Price recovers back to where the rebound went despite the fact that the puck went against his momentum. This made him ready for a second shot that no one even bothered to try.

Montreal is still a very long way from Lord Stanley’s Cup, but goaltending like that has been the backbone of this team. And, if it continues, perhaps we shall reach the unreachable star.