TAMPA, Fla. — It is an image that will immediately be burned in Stanley Cup lore: Blake Coleman stretching out like a runner trying to steal second base and somehow scoring a buzzer-beating goal in the process.
And yet it’s the man on the wrong end of that play we wonder about most.
Carey Price can’t truly be faulted for that goal against, nor the 0-2 hole in this series his Montreal Canadiens head home with. But these weren’t just any two games in a Hall of Fame career and that wasn’t just any goal to slip through the smallest available space above Price’s right pad and below his blocker.
It stood up as the winner in a 3-1 victory that moved the Tampa Bay Lightning within two wins of a second straight Stanley Cup.
“It’s one of those where the announcer says, ‘You’ll see that on SportsCenter tonight.”’ said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “That’s what it was.”
Said Canadiens forward Paul Byron: “It was just a nice goal from them at a bad time for us.”
There’s never been a good time for Price to be something less than superhuman in Montreal. But after nearly 800 career games and all these years as a generational goaltending talent, this is a particularly challenging moment for him to allow eight goals on 50 cumulative shots no matter what bounces went the wrong way or who fired the pucks past him.
We don’t actually know how Price is handling the roller-coaster of his first Stanley Cup Final. He was requested to speak after Game 2, but wasn’t made available to reporters during Zoom availability.
The man who expertly backstopped Team Canada to a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics and has long lifted the Canadiens to a level exceeding their collective talent had been burning for this chance at a championship.
“Just excitement,” Price said of his mindset before the series began. “It’s been something we’ve been working toward our whole lives and finally getting the opportunity, we’re just looking forward to it.”
He then heard “Carrrrreeyyyyy!!!” derisively chanted inside a packed Amalie Arena. The five-goal Lightning outburst in Game 1 could easily be chalked up to inopportune turnovers and Wednesday’s goals felt more unfortunate than misplayed.
You’d probably like Price to stop Anthony Cirelli’s opening strike that sailed through four players, but Corey Perry wasn’t wrong when he described it thusly: “I didn’t know if I was in his way. It was a seeing-eye shot. It went through one set of legs, went by my leg and went in the net.”
The Canadiens were generating significantly more quantity and quality through 40 minutes. But Coleman’s diving goal at 19:58 of the second period put them behind 2-1 on a desperation play where Price was a touch slow on the read.
Then, as if to add insult to injury, Joel Edmundson turned the puck over behind his own net and left Price with no chance on the 3-1 goal.
At the other end you had Andrei Vasilevskiy making 42 saves in a first-star performance. The kind of thing that Price might be asked to do as the series shifts to Bell Centre with some already reading to crown the Lightning again.
Only one elite goaltender has carried an outsized load so far.
“I think our guys have had good looks at Vasilevskiy and he’s definitely a great goaltender,” said Canadiens assistant coach Luke Richardson. “We’ve seen it with other teams when Carey gets in your head. I think what we have to do is just keep being simple. The scouting reports, we’ll read them and use them to our advantage and look at some video.”
And they’ll almost certainly count on Carey to elevate, too.
That’s just how it’s been for 15 years in Montreal. Price shouldn’t bear much responsibility for two losses in Tampa, but there’s still room for him to plant a small seed of doubt.
We’re talking about a fierce competitor who has won everything except a Stanley Cup. And a man who can’t be assured of ever seeing another chance as good as this one to put his name on that trophy.
“He’s got a Hall of Fame career if he retires right now. That’s just the reality,” said Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. “I know that everyone in that organization, they watch Carey, they see his commitment to excellence, they see how hard he works in the off-season, how committed he is to being the absolute best — how it drives him.
“That’s what drives his life. They see how he works in practice, they see how he competes in games and then how he performs in games, and for all of those reasons that’s why I’m sure they all believe that he’s the best goalie in the world.”
A special goalie still looking for his signature moment in this Stanley Cup Final.