OTTAWA — Carey Price was looking for redemption. He couldn’t even get to the overtime.
In a bizarre sequence in the dying seconds of Game 4’s third period, the Senators tied the score at two and at the buzzer, Price stumbled to get to his feet, got injured and was unable to answer the bell in overtime.
That sent backup goaltender Peter Budaj into the Canadiens goal, where he surrendered a long floating shot by Kyle Turris, just 2:32 into the extra period.
Wow. Insane comeback.
Suddenly, the goaltender at the other end, Ottawa’s Craig Anderson, is a step closer to his first career playoff series win.
In a game that had Scotiabank Place buzzing after 60 minutes and screaming in overtime, the Senators awoke from a sleepy first couple of periods to pop two third goals, the last with 22 seconds left, to force overtime.
And so a quarter-final series most of us expected at the outset to go long could be over as early as Thursday. Onward to Montreal for Game 5, the Senators leading 3-1.
With the injury, it’s unclear if Price will even be able to play in Game 5. The way is paved for Anderson to steal the show and for the Senators to win their first playoff series since 2007, barring a Canadiens miracle.
The Senators joyous comeback was Price’s pain. As well as the Canadiens played here, Price was spitting out rebounds, appeared to be fighting the puck. On a night when the home team didn’t play with urgency until the third period, Anderson had the tougher saves to make.
Find a winning playoff team and there is bound to be a masked man involved.
Goaltending. Some hockey people think the Stanley Cup playoffs could be renamed “goaltending,” because almost without exception behind every championship club is a stellar goalie.
The early rounds are no different. Why were the Vancouver Canucks eliminated Tuesday? In large part, because Antti Niemi has played out of his mind, with a .945 save percentage and 1.62 goals-against in the first three games.
In the Ottawa-Montreal series, Anderson and Price have gone back and forth in shining moments, although Anderson has done the better job of keeping every game close, giving his Senators a chance to win. Only once has a goaltender truly been torched, and that was Price in the 6-1 blowout of Game 3 – a disaster for all things Montreal, Price included.
On the off day between Games 3 and 4, Price was asked to assess his own performance through three games (1-2, 3.69 goals-against and .879 save percentage). He wasn’t as hard on himself as the average radio caller has been in Montreal these past weeks.
“Fair,” was how he described his play. “Obviously there’s room for improvement,” Price added.
It is also “fair” to say that the Canadiens played well enough to win Game 1 of this series on home ice but Price did not. He was outdueled by Anderson in a 4-2 Senators win, in which the home team outshot Ottawa 50-31. A classic playoff steal by a hot goaltender.
“He’s a machine back there,” Senators defenceman Marc Methot said of Anderson afterward.
That win assured the Senators a split in Montreal and set them up well in this series.
Price bounced back in Game 2, making several critical stops in Montreal’s 3-1 decision. Anderson wasn’t quite as sharp in that one, but he was the difference early on in Game 3, when the Canadiens enjoyed an edge in play and early power play opportunities, but fell behind on Jean-Gabriel Pageau night.
In the end, Price was left to wallow in the muck, victimized six times as the Senators took advantage of 12 power play opportunities in a brawl-filled game. As the Habs lost their minds, Price lost any semblance of decent playoffs stats.
No matter. He insisted he was not upset at being left in the game, when many analysts thought he should have been hooked in the third period to avoid further tarnish.
“I wanted to hang in there with my teammates,” Price said.
Canadiens head coach Therrien sang from the same songbook, implying there is value in shared experiences, even of the nightmare variety.
“You’ve got to live that moment together,” Therrien said. “Feel the pain together.”
There is no goalie controversy like a Montreal goalie controversy, and Price has been getting booed at the Bell Centre, although the boos turned to chants of “Car-ey! Carey!” during the Game 2 victory. Canadiens fans do fickle so well.
A day after the 6-1 thumping in Game 3, someone was bound to ask Therrien if he would consider turning to Budaj for Game 4. Therrien reacted with incredulity.
“Are you serious? Therrien said. “Carey Price is playing [Tuesday].”
Seriously, coach. Budaj, torched in a 5-1 loss to Ottawa early in the season, now appears to be your starting goalie.