They were practically dead in the water, drowning after being pummeled 4-0 on home ice and held to just four goals in the first four games of this series against a Toronto Maple Leafs team that beat them in seven of 10 regular-season games and finished 18 points ahead in the standings. And if anyone was giving the Montreal Canadiens a chance at that point, after so few gave them a chance before this series started, they were delusional.
But the Canadiens kicked their way to the surface with three consecutive wins, the last of which — Monday’s 3-1 series-clincher — never seemed in doubt for a single second once the puck dropped at Scotiabank Arena.
“That was our best game of the series,” Carey Price told Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas after it.
It was one of the best ones he’s played in his 14 years defending an NHL net.
It was Price who gave the Canadiens a puncher’s chance of defying the predictions from the beginning of Game 1, and it was Price who authoritatively stamped their ticket to Winnipeg like he was punching an Auston Matthews shot away with his blocker.
Oh, the shots from Big No. 34, the NHL’s most gifted goal scorer, who captured the Rocket Richard Trophy with 41 in 52 regular-season games — many of them scored with a bum wrist — could’ve snuffed out decades of playoff misery for the Maple Leafs if not for Price’s armor. He came into Game 7 with one goal on a series-leading 32 shots and finished the night with two more on the scoresheet that Price took away. Price kicked another one that didn’t register wide of the net.
Linemates Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman scored on one between them through the first six games and were held to none despite combining for eight shots in Game 7.
With the score 3-0, and with just 1:36 remaining in the third period, William Nylander beat Price on the blocker side. But the way the 33-year-old goaltender made his 29 saves before that, it appeared — and inevitably proved — virtually impossible 1:36 would be enough time to score even one more goal on him, let alone two.