Tie series. Just like that.
The Penguins took a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute of Game 2 Monday, and they added two more goals for good measure in a 3-1 win.
The Montreal Canadiens goaltender put it perfectly days ahead of this competition. “I can sway the series with outstanding play,” Price said, “but we’re all going to have to play over our heads.”
He did his part but his teammates failed to do theirs.
“Our best players have to be our best players,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said after the game. “Tonight we had some guys who really struggled.”
It was Jeff Petry and Nick Suzuki getting crossed up in their coverage, while Joel Armia allowed Sidney Crosby to blow right by him and into the slot to beat Price through the legs on the opening goal. It was two penalties for having too many men on the ice before 15 minutes had even expired. It was two careless giveaways from Jonathan Drouin, in his own zone, while the Canadiens were on the power play.
Montreal’s regular-season scoring leaders, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, were held to just four shots and only one quality scoring chance between them. They’ve now combined for just one assist through this series.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort.
The Canadiens’ intensity was there, their intentions were good, but their execution was abysmal. At least their penalty kill was a well-oiled machine — the benefit of testing it out 12 times in two games — but everything else was a rusted jalopy.
The Canadiens were out-shot 14-7 in the first period. They lost 53 per cent of the faceoffs and struggled to complete 50 per cent of their passes.
Things didn’t exactly improve for them through periods two and three.
“They were the better team tonight,” said Canadiens captain Shea Weber.
It might have been the understatement of the year.
Prior to that, Price stood on his head, making difficult saves look easy and keeping the Penguins mostly at bay. He couldn’t have played better if he tried.
“All I can say is he’s given us a chance to win both games, and he’s by far your best player right now after two games,” said Julien. “He’s been outstanding and I would have liked for us to respond a little bit better tonight, obviously. But that’s what Carey is and that’s what Carey is known for, and he’s living up to his reputation right now.”
These Canadiens lived up to their own reputation on this night. They didn’t finish in 24th place in the 31-team NHL because they’re a flawless team.
Granted, they’ve been known to squander leads and known to allow goals in the first and final minutes of periods, and they managed to avoid those habits on Monday.
But the Canadiens have also been known to have significant lapses in their decision making, and that part manifested itself in this game just as it did in Game 1—with a parade to the penalty box.
Still, Price gave them a golden opportunity to overcome their latest bad habit. But they just weren’t up to the task.
“When you dissect a series, you say, ‘Okay, Game 2 — you either let them back in or put them against the wall,’” Julien said earlier on Monday.
Now it’s his Canadiens who have their backs against the wall, much like Price had his to it for this game.
He was forced to make 35 saves — including 14 on Pittsburgh’s five power plays — and he gave his team every opportunity at a win it didn’t deserve.
The Canadiens couldn’t capitalize.
At the other end of the ice, they floundered. They couldn’t make a play on three power plays of their own and generated just a single shot under those circumstances.
“We got stuck on the walls tonight, I think, a little bit too much,” said Weber. “Obviously couldn’t get the puck off the wall to the middle of the ice and they were be able to win those battles and get it down the ice. Obviously when you put it on the wall and you’re not in possession, you’re not going to generate.”
It wasn’t just on the power play where the Canadiens struggled to get to the middle of the ice. They had no more than three quality scoring chances on Matt Murray at five-on-five.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi cashed in on one, getting the Canadiens to within one goal at 17:51 of the third period, with what might have been their only rebound opportunity of the game.
“I think they sent a message tonight,” said Canadiens centre Phillip Danault. “They were playing more tight. They had the puck a lot, too. [All of our penalties] didn’t help. They had momentum and a good chance to have good execution. [Our execution] wasn’t bad, but we know we’ve got better and we’ll be better next game.”
They weren’t even close to good enough in this one.
Now it’s a best-of-three, and the Canadiens are going to need a lot more than Price to get them through it.