They say you haven’t lost the advantage in a series until you lose at home. That adage might have been more apt in the old days than now, but the Montreal Canadiens held on to it trying to will themselves into the Stanley Cup Final.
Tampa Bay, going into the contest with a two-game advantage, would create some horrific historical math with a win in game three, and they got it — winning 6-3 to take a three-game series lead.
Some days, despite your best intentions, nothing works. This was the nightmare scenario for the Canadiens. It was reminiscent of the fantastic series that the Canadiens had with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2002 when Jose Theodore was outstanding in the playoffs shocking Boston, but it ended with a heartbreaking 8-2 win for Carolina at the Bell Centre and the elimination of the Canadiens in game six in the East semi-finals.
This night felt like that one. Such excitement heading in, but one team just put it all together and the other team got more deflated with every goal against them. Momentum means so much when you get so far and want it so much, and in this one, you could almost feel the Canadiens realize the end of a dream during the actual game.
When an emotional pain happens during a contest, there are no horses. No one can gallop. There is only your brain realizing horrible truths attached to the heart feeling the sense of loss deeply, that leads to the legs suddenly not really working anymore.
They’ll recover to put in their best effort in game four. They didn’t come this far to not take it to the end, but this one had emotional pain written all over it. They have until Monday night to recover from it.
One of the tales of this series revolving in Tampa Bay’s favour is the point shot that has eyes. Often they are not even powerful point shots, but shots that somehow make it through four or five bodies. Sometimes they hit a body along the way. Sometimes they hit even two bodies.
The previous three clubs that the Canadiens beat tried the same strategy. Taking away the goalie’s eyes is a well worn technique in the NHL playoffs to neutralize a hot goalie. The previous three clubs weren’t able to succeed at all with the technique. Price made his way to a .935 save percentage.
This series, Tampa defencemen are sending 55-foot wrist shots that look completely harmless when they leave the stick, but along the way they get dangerous. They become goals when if they don’t hit someone or aren’t screened, they could not be easier saves for Price.
However, this is how hockey plays out sometimes. It’s a game of chaos, this sport, more than any other of the sports. The puck does funny things.
This is not an argument that the Canadiens are getting extremely unlucky. It is an argument that they are getting mildly unlucky. Why the latter and not the former?
Because you make your own luck. The puck does make it though a screen, and it does take a deflection because a team increases the odds that it can happen by doing it a lot; by playing in the offensive zone a lot to create that opportunity.
Play in the other team’s zone and good things happen. This is what analytics are all about. Corsi and Expected Goal Percentage are about how many times do you fire it and the quality of the shot that you are firing in comparison to the other team.
Usually, the Canadiens fair extremely well in this statistic. They are a good analytics team, and they have not been horrific at in this series. However, this is not like Winnipeg when Montreal’s domination was electric. This is not Vegas when Montreal shocked the Golden Knights in this category by being competitive.
Tampa makes you pay for your mistakes very well. Early second after the Canadiens worked so hard to get back into the game, it’s a brutal line change that leaves Tampa with a 2-on-0. They convert with Nikita Kucherov scoring. Still deflated only a minute later, it’s another odd man rush for Tampa that leads to Tyler Johnson scoring a fourth goal and this one was over.
All of this, from screens to deflections, to poor line changes to redirections, they all add up to this: Price was .935 in the first three rounds and he is .840 in the final. Whether that is on him or on everyone else, that’s for you to debate. The number is the number and the number is why they’re down three games. An .840 does not win you a hockey game.
The road is long, and the Canadiens seem to be at the end of it, but we also thought that against Toronto when the series was 3-1 Maple Leafs, so wait until the final whistle until writing the Canadiens obituary. They’ve come this far. They are owed that.
The Canadiens offered an extremely emotional gesture before game three. Owner Geoff Molson called young Anderson Whitehead, inviting him to game three of the final. The Canadiens organization got him a nice hotel room and a seat to watch his hero Carey Price compete in the Stanley Cup final.
Words can not possibly do the moment justice when Whitehead met his hero goalie Price. Whitehead was very emotional and fighting back tears not only because he was meeting Carey, but also because this moment was created by his mother as a promise she would keep before passing away from cancer.
When Price left the ice, his gaze caught Whitehead, to whom he offered to autograph his stick. Usually these moments pass quickly and then the professional athlete moves on.
Carey saw the emotion of the boy and only seconds after, he offered to ease his apparent pain and suffering with a loving hug. No one who has seen it can say they were not touched.
The embraced as if connected for years. Price remained for another minute or two, signing everything he could find that Anderson had brought.
They became friends.
The next time we saw them publicly was at the NHL awards show where Price sent a video message, but the surprise was that Carey was actually at the awards and joined Anderson on stage.
Again, the boy’s emotions had overcome him. Price eased his feelings with such fatherly know-how; it was a sight to marvel at. The segment concluded with raw emotion. Players have a role in society because they are the heroes of children. This will always be, and when players do that role well, the world is right.
For Habs fans now, the hockey is all wrong, but the world is right. In these disappointing moments after a third loss, don’t lament how the final is going; instead, see Carey Price and Anderson Whitehead and be reminded that there is more to this mortal coil than the final score. There is the life lived and the path taken.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.