Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages…
Carey Price is just fine, thank you.
What a treat this was. Price and Henrik Lundqvist put on a show worthy of the Ringling Brothers for the Madison Square Garden crowd Tuesday night. In the end, it was Price’s turn to snag a desperately-needed victory for the Canadiens, 3-2, outlasting The King and his Rangers in a 6-round skills competition. These guys even make the shootout fun.
I’ll have more on the game itself in my next post, but for now, The Save deserves its own stage.
3-on-3 overtime may be a gimmick to try to avoid that most un-American result, the tie, but it’s one heck of a gimmick. After Tomas Plekanec rings one off the crossbar with just over 8 seconds to go in the extra period, the Rangers’ Kevin Hayes (13, ice left) and J.T. Miller (10, ice right) explode down the ice on a 2-on-1 against Andrei Markov.
Hayes carries the puck into the left face-off circle. Price, appropriately, focuses on Hayes as a shooter, as Markov leaves his feet to prevent the cross-ice pass.
Every remarkable desperation save like this has some element of luck. In this case, Markov’s prone slide doesn’t prevent Hayes’ pass, but it does force him to saucer the puck to Miller. The puck either reaches Miller’s stick just off the ice, or short-hops in, at the heel of his blade.
Miller has to take a split second to settle the puck, which gives Price the time to perform his magic.
At first, I wasn't sure that Miller’s shot was heading into the net, but on the overhead views it looks as though it would have snuck just inside the far post. His need to settle the puck, combined with his knowledge that precious little time is left on the clock, likely results in this less-than-optimal targeting.
The puck appears to hit Price just at the edge of his blocker, or possibly on his right elbow. His teammates have hustled back to help, and Tomas Plekanec prevents the stunned Miller from converting any rebound attempt.
This is an amazing save.
As is usually the case when Carey Price does something magical, though, there’s always more to see.
When Price sees Hayes’ pass clear Markov’s hands, knowing that there is barely any time remaining in the most important game he has played in a Habs uniform in nearly two years, he launches himself across the crease. It’s how he launches himself, though, that makes all the difference.
The key to making a desperation save like this is to block as much net as possible, as quickly as possible. If you happen to be able to track the puck, which I believe Price also does on this save, all the better.
Price doesn’t just fall sideways across the crease on his left side. Instead, he throws himself across the crease like a soccer goalie, elevating his right shoulder and arm so that his chest is perpendicular to the ice for as long as possible. This enables him to block as much of the middle of the net as he can with his body. It also allows him to see the puck. His right arm reaches across the upper front of his body, rather than directly on top of his right side. This is, clearly, the easiest place to extend it, but this also has the effect of taking away at least a portion of Miller’s vertical angle to the top of the net.
Now for the real magic. Look at his glove hand. Halfway across the crease, in midair, he bends his left elbow.
Only Price can say whether he does this by instinct, or as a specific response to what he sees from Miller, but it’s effective for several reasons. For one, it raises his glove into the mid-height of the net. Miller will most likely to try to elevate the puck, expecting that Price will be sliding across on his pads or reaching across the bottom half of the net with his glove. Price knows this, and is willing to live with it if Miller can redirect the puck low inside the near post. Under no circumstances, however, will he let the Rangers’ forward put one into the middle of the net. Second, raising his glove like this closes any hole between his arms next to the top of his head, also enabling him to cover as much of the middle of the net as possible.
I’d also suggest an additional factor. Price might think that his glove, fully extended, could actually reach beyond the near post, where he has no need to cover. By raising his glove, he creates a vertical blocking surface with his glove and his left forearm that maximizes his coverage inside the post.
Regardless of whether these calculations take place in his head, or if he just does it, none of this happens by accident. Carey Price makes his magic from instinct, technique, and preparation.
The King knows this, and shows his appreciation.
He doesn't look amazed, though, because Henrik Lundqvist knows that he would have made that save too.
If you watch sports long enough, you realize that among the greatest athletes in the world, there are those few who were born with the ability to do things that even their peers can’t. Among those few, there is an even smaller subset who dedicate themselves, heart and soul, to maximizing the gift that they were given. Finally, within that smaller group, there is the elite circle of men and women who are able to harness that ability, consistently, at the moments they need it most.
Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist are card-carrying members of that smallest circle, Stanley-Cups-Be-Damned.