MONTREAL – One goalie stole the game for his team, while the other one didn't.
Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson had perhaps the greatest game in what has been an outstanding season, stopping a career playoff-high 48 shots to give his team a 4-2 win Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Bell Centre.
Anderson was perfect on 30 shots at the halfway point of the game before finally allowing a goal on Montreal's 34th attempt.
"The story of the game is simple, we all know what it is," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "Anderson was fantastic."
At the other end of the ice, Montreal goaltender Carey Price gave up two goals he should have stopped in the opening 5:20 of the third period, turning a 2-1 lead for the Canadiens into a 3-2 deficit and seriously deflating a team that had been dominant to that point.
Senators rookie Jakob Silfverberg scored his first career playoff goal at 3:27 of the third on a long slap shot that beat an unscreened Price through the legs to tie the game 2-2. Marc Methot followed with a slap shot from the blue line that Price attempted to glove but instead deflected behind him and into the net at 5:20 to give Ottawa a 3-2 lead.
"I would say Anderson was better than him," was all Therrien would say when asked to assess Price's game.
Guillaume Latendresse added an insurance goal at 13:55 – his first career playoff goal – to allow the Senators to cruise to the win and steal home ice advantage in the series, which resumes Friday night.
But none of it would have been possible without the stellar play of Anderson.
"I'm just trying to give my team a chance to win," Anderson said. "That's my job. That's every goalie's job."
The game was severely dampened by a scary incident that saw Canadiens center Lars Eller taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to a hospital after being hit by Senators defenseman Eric Gryba at 13:28 of the second period. The Canadiens reported Eller suffered a concussion with loss of consciousness as well as facial fractures and loss of teeth.
Gryba was given a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct. He will have a hearing with the NHL on Friday concerning a possible suspension for an illegal check to the head.
"There was a lot of emotion developing in that period," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. "But when that play happened, it amplified it."
Senators coach Paul MacLean acknowledged the impact Anderson had on the game – it would be impossible not to when your team is outshot 50-31 and wins the game – but he said the game changed just after that hit. Ottawa's penalty-killers limited Montreal to one goal during the five-minute power play, including 1:22 at 5-on-3, and he felt that was a turning point.
"The fact our penalty killers killed off a 5-on-3 and gave up one goal on a five-minute penalty, I thought we gained a lot of momentum from that maybe more than Craig's overall play. I thought the play of the penalty killers was very good and gave us energy coming out for the third period."
Montreal was outshooting the Senators 34-17 at the time of the Gryba hit and had tied the game 1-1 just 19 seconds earlier when Rene Bourque came out from behind the net and roofed a backhander over Anderson's shoulder at 13:09.
After a long delay to tend to Eller's injury, Canadiens rookie Brendan Gallagher scored his first career playoff goal on the ensuing power play when he banged home a Tomas Plekanec feed on the doorstep at 14:08 to make it 2-1. However, the Canadiens were unable to add to their lead despite having another 4:20 of power play time left after the Gallagher goal, and getting 1:22 of 5-on-3 time after Senators rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau took a tripping penalty.
The Canadiens set a franchise playoff record with 27 shots on goal in the second period, but ultimately their failure to capitalize on a game-changing moment wound up changing the game in favor of the Senators early in the third period.
"He played great," Gallagher said of Anderson. "But it's not an acceptable excuse to say their goalie stole the game from us. We made mistakes."