Well, I've finally seen it. I've been told for the last two years that Carey Price has the makings of being a franchise goaltender. I've heard sung the praises of his size, his quickness, his unflappability under pressure and his fabulous positioning. I looked for it. I waited for it. But I felt like the only person in the world who'd not seen it.
I have to confess: I thought he was good, but not earthshatteringly great, in the famous world junior championship shootout versus the United States last year. He DID allow three or four goals in it and was saved by the heroic hat trick of Jonathan Toews. He played solidly in the Calder Cup playoffs last year, but I didn't see the next incarnation of Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur in his game.
I was encouraged by his first NHL game in Pittsburgh. It seemed like destiny, his starting his first NHL game on the same date, against the same team as Roy and Ken Dryden had done in previous years. He played very well, and I thought, maybe there's something to all the hype. But his defence also played very well and protected their young goalie carefully. When the team started treating him like a real pro...in other words, leaving him to fend for himself several times in the run of a game...the lustre dimmed and he looked very, very ordinary on many nights. Then, after his devastating loss to Washington a month ago, when he cried after the game and looked distracted and weak during it, I started to worry. He went to Hamilton to rebuild his confidence and got bombed in two straight games. I had to remind myself that he's just twenty years old and he's still got a lot to learn.
But last night, I finally saw it. He was standing up and facing shooters. His glove was quick and his feet quicker. He was bold and well-positioned, and improved as the pressure built and the game raced closer to overtime. He looked, in a word, unbeatable. When Panthers shooters swarmed his crease, for the first time in his pro career, I had no fear they'd whack one by him. The defining moment for me came when the team was killing Captain Koivu's latest hooking penalty with two minutes to go in regulation. With Panthers buzzing his zone, Price calmly gathered the puck and lofted it over their heads and down the ice.
I have to remember, he's only twenty. He's still got a lot to learn. But for the first time, I have real confidence he'll get there. There will be bad goals sometimes, and bad games, but I've seen the light. October 10 might have been Carey Price's first NHL game, but February 13 is the day he arrived.