Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Aftermath: My Buddy

Last night was a glorious Original Six throwback to what hockey was meant to look like. Carey Price and his 42 saves were spectacular, but the Hawks' Corey Crawford was no slouch himself. He robbed the Canadiens outright several times, including twice committing larceny against Andrei Kostitsyn. It was the kind of game in which you could actually cheer the other goalie for a great save with no bitterness. Crawford really should have been given a star, along with the very deserving P.K. Subban and Price, because without his heroics in net, the game wouldn't have been as perfect a battle as it became.

And it was perfect; the kind of game that inspired the great Danny Gallivan to use words like "scintillating." There were small flaws, like the five minors the Canadiens took (yet again), but the perfect PK erased them and made them irrelevant to the overall beauty of the game. The regulation goals were scored by the two teams' snipers, the way they should be. Each side's defence blocked shots and played positionally-sound hockey in their own ends. The forwards skated miles and made skilled and accurate passing plays.

The rest of the show came down to those two young goalies, and what a show it was! End-to-end rushes, stymied by a pad or neatly snagged with a glove you'd swear wasn't there a millisecond earlier. Goalmouth scrambles with screened shots the goalies saw as though they'd borrowed Clark Kent's glasses. Price batting a puck out with his glove as he fell backward into the net, then playing snow angel to keep it out. At the other end, Crawford facing down a wide-open Kostitsyn and snatching a goal right out of the air. Price stopped more shots, but it might be argued that Crawford stopped more difficult ones.

The game could really have gone either way. Both teams were so intense and driven by the necessity of winning, one mistake could have been the difference in regulation time. It turned out the Hawks made the fateful mistake in overtime, with captain Jonathan Toews, after having had a breakaway taken neatly away from him by a brilliant P.K.Subban, took a tripping penalty. The penalty, if called on a Hab, would have been called chintzy. In any case, the call gave the Canadiens the slight edge they needed and P.K.Subban, who's getting better with every game, finished it with a goal worthy of a spectacular game.

The night was perfect for the faithful at the Bell Centre, but the best part of the night was the time immediately after the winning goal, when Subban raced the length of the ice to throw himself at (and bounce off of) Price. The exuberance of the two Canadiens' heroes of the evening was the story of the season for me. For the first time in his young career, Carey Price has someone to help him carry the "Franchise" label people hung on him the day he was drafted. His every move has been scrutinized and his every loss dissected and critiqued since he broke into the league three years ago. It's a difficult load to bear all alone.

Thanks to Subban, Price can now share the spotlight and the pressure that comes along with it. The young defenceman has borne his share of expectation, criticism and pressure too. He's begun his career playing a vital top-six role, that's, by necessity, morphed into a top-two. He's been learning on the job in his first NHL season, while dealing with the scrutiny of critics who want to knock him down a peg for every thrilled celebration or on-ice scuffle. In spite of it all, he's emerging as a developing star and a cornerstone of the team going forward.

The ascendance of Subban is an unexpected gift for Price. It's a lonely job to be the sole star in an environment as demanding as Montreal, in which as many people across the country are rooting for you to fail as there are who hope you succeed. Having a guy in the same kind of position sharing the ice with you is invaluable. Subban understands and shares Price's situation, and his upbeat personality can help keep the goalie out of the lows he hit emotionally last year. Everything's easier when you've got a buddy who gets it.

Watching the triple low five, the chest bumps, the off-ice joking and the in-game support they show each other is such a joyful thing. When a person in his early twenties is expected to be a paragon both at work and away from it, all the time, sometimes joy becomes a rare commodity. If Subban and Price find it in each other, it'll make their load easier to carry, and maybe become the deciding factor that will one day make them choose to stay in Montreal long term.

Last night was, in essence, a perfect playoff game. It reminded us that sometimes the team on paper can be greater than its parts, and it gives us a glimmer of hope for the playoffs. Beyond that, though, it gave us immediate pleasure in a game played the way it was meant to be played. As the beautiful bonus after a perfect night, we had a glimpse at a future anchored by the young brothers-in-arms who'll help each other build a winning team. They were two of the very deserving three stars on a star-filled night to wrap up a star-crossed home season.


Anonymous said...

As usual, nobody says it better. I can't believe the criticism P.K. has had to endure this season. But they'll never break his spirit.

Anonymous said...

I love PK what a future.What a difference from last year with Price.Can you imagine if they had traded him.The NAY Sayers where to many to count.AS usual great article tks.

Pierre said...

Tell me again, JT: how come you don't have a job in the written press?

Thanks for sharing your great work with us.

PS: and PK Subban rocks!

J.T. said...

@the anons: Thanks!

@Pierre: I don't know. You hiring?! And yeah, P.K. rocks. Price ain't too shabby either.

DB said...

You're so right that last night's game was hockey the way it was meant to be played. Speed, intensity, scoring chances, big defensive plays, and great goaltending.

What a player P.K. is. Just as he did in his rookie AHL season, his first few months of the season were a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but once he got his confidence he took off like a rocket. And what a joy it's been watching that rocket go into orbit.

If we're lucky, next year the bothers-in-arms could become a trio - MaxPac was showing all the right signs that he was ready to join the club before he was injured.

Saw a maple leaf vanity license plate today that made me laugh - it read NX YR.

moeman said...

Beautiful game.

Beautiful Price season with reason.

Beautiful PK style and smile.

Beautiful J.T. writing.

We are blessed.

Go Habs.

Pierre said...

@JT: unfortunately, no, I don't own a newspaper or anything.It's just that it baffles me that there are people like you out there who do a much better job of covering the Habs than 90% of the written press, yet never have the jobs...

Yes, Price is really good, but as good as he is, it's almost like it shouldn't be a surprise: the kid had such obvious skills from the moment he was drafted. PK, to me, was more of a project and I am amazed to see how well he is doing, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

lankbooks said...

Great article JT,

and you've hit the nail on the head- that budding friendship may be the key to Price staying in Montreal. Baring that burden was thankless for CP all these years and I know he must have been eyeing the exit... may still be. But after last night- maybe a little less! For PK to emerge this year, the year Price would have to prove so much and take on so much pressure, and be a lightning-rod for his own set of criticism- truly was a God-send. Last night's game (and celebration!) really encapsulated that. It truly does make them brothers-in-arms.

I hope they make their fraternity the Montreal Canadiens.