The Canadiens faced a different New York Rangers team in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night than they had faced in Sunday’s Game 3, one that proved to be too much to handle. Jesper Fast and Rick Nash each beat Carey Price in close, and Henrik Lundqvist continued to prove himself a formidable opponent as the Habs dropped Game 4 2-1, setting up a dramatic fifth game at the Centre Bell tonight.
On Nash’s eventual game winner, Ryan McDonagh (27) intercepts a clearing attempt by Jeff Petry at the left point, and finds Nash moving toward the net. Price attempts to get his stick blade on the pass, but Nash beats him to it. Price never quite recovers his balance and positioning, and Nash is able to slide the puck under his left pad.
Jesper Fast’s opening goal in the first period results from an uncharacteristic misplay by Andrei Markov on what appeared to be a routine dump-in.
After Brady Skjei plays in the puck in around the left boards, it passes behind the net, then glances off of Markov’s skate directly to Fast (19).
As Fast approaches on a low angle, he loosely controls the puck on his forehand, pushing it laterally toward the net. He then appears to be attempting to control the puck on his forehand.
Instead, he lifts his stick over the puck and quickly jams the puck toward the net on his backhand, driving it into the net between Price's knees.
The problem for Price on this goal is what he does with his stick.
He begins the unexpected sequence with his stick blade on the ice, in standard position.
Price drops into an RVH against the low angle threat, but rotates his right hand so that his stick blade is perpendicular to Fast’s path. He is anticipating either being able to knock the puck away with a forehand swipe or poke check, or cut off Fast’s path across the front of the crease.
When Fast is able to control the puck on his backhand sooner than Price anticipates, he has an easy path to Price’s 5-hole along the ice.
The vulnerability is compounded when Price does attempt a forehand swipe at Fast’s stick. This causes his balance to shift slightly off of his left pad, and he loses the inside edge of his anchored right skate. His right pad shifts backward, further opening the space along the ice.
This balance shift leaves Price vulnerable to Fast’s strong play on his backhand. As his weight shifts back, his pads raise up slightly off the ice, and Fast is able to jam the puck between Price’s knees and under his butterfly.
Earlier this season, we discussed that, on occasion, Price lets in a goal because of a brief moment of indecision. That doesn't seem to have been the case on either of the Rangers’ goals in Game 4. Price makes an aggressive play on Nash’s decisive score, but Nash simply makes a better one.
Fast’s goal, though, appears to be an uncharacteristic misread by Price. Although the scoring opportunity develops because of a defensive miscue, Price’s choice of stick positioning leaves him vulnerable to the simplest play that Fast can make to get the puck into the net.
That’s the beauty, and the agony, of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Something as simple as the angle of Carey Price’s stick blade can decide the course of a series, and determine the mood of an entire city.
The Habs and Rangers now have a 3-game series to decide who gets to keep playing hockey as the weather gets warmer. Buckle up.