As the horn sounded to end Game 2 of the Montréal Canadiens’ second-round playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets, Habs’ netminder Carey Price stood a little taller than the rest. Having faced 30 shots, Price turned them all away for his first shutout of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and his eighth overall in the postseason. Thanks in large part to him, the Canadiens are riding high.
After Sunday night’s contest, they now hold a 3-0 series lead over the Jets and have won a comparatively staggering six games in a row. Price’s recent performances are a key factor in getting the Canadiens to the lofty perch they currently occupy; it seems fitting that one of the team’s undisputed leaders and their backbone of 14 seasons is a major contributor to their playoff success so far.
An Underwhelming Regular Season for the Habs’ Number One
Price’s 2020-21 regular season was decidedly sub-par. He posted a 12-7-5 record with a .901 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.64 goals against average (GAA). For comparison, his Vezina Trophy-winning season of 2014-15 saw him post a 44-16-6 record with a 1.96 GAA and a .933 SV%. When healthy, Price is undeniably the best goaltender in the NHL and Team Canada’s unquestioned number one. When healthy, he starts upwards of 60 games per season and gives the Canadiens a stalwart at the back end. Unfortunately, this season he was once again bitten by the injury bug, starting only 25 games. He missed significant time from late April to early May with a concussion after being hit by the Calgary Flames’ Alex Chiasson.
When Price went down, the Canadiens as a team possessed an even zero goal differential and gave up an average of 2.83 goals per game. As expected, the Canadiens performed worse defensively during Price’s time on injured reserve, with their team GAA rising to 3.46 and allowing a total of 45 goals to 33 scored.
Price’s Concussion No Longer a Concern
Jake Allen performed alright in Price’s absence, but the Canadiens’ coaching staff and players couldn’t wait to have Price back between the pipes as Allen’s play declined as the season wound down. As the playoffs began, there was tension in regards to how Price would fare coming off his concussion. He and teammate Brendan Gallagher spent a few games in the AHL with the Laval Rocket on a conditioning assignment, but many were still worried about rust. Now that we’re well into the second round and the Habs have nine playoff games played, those concerned are invalid.
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He stood on his head as the Canadiens grabbed a surprise victory in Game 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and backstopped them again in both Game 7 of the first round and again in Game 2 against the Winnipeg Jets in a 1-0 shutout victory. Maple Leafs’ superstar Auston Matthews had high praise for Price and the Canadiens’ defence, saying:
When it comes to playoff time, everything’s much tighter and they’re obviously a team that defends well. They have great goaltending.”Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews on the play of Carey Price during the Leafs’ first-round series against the Canadiens.
Price Looking Like His Old Self Again
We’ve already discussed Price’s 2014-15 regular season, but his playoff stats from that season also deserve some attention for comparison’s sake. In 12 games, he posted a 2.23 GAA and a .920 SV%. The Canadiens ultimately lost in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round, but Price impressed with another shutout. This season, he has one shutout, a 1.97 GAA and a .938 SV% in 10 games. He was one minute away from another goose egg in Game 7 against the Leafs. He turned aside 26 of 27 shots in Game 3 against the Jets to help the Habs to a commanding 3-0 series lead. Price was also responsible for the Canadiens’ upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins and pushing the Philadelphia Flyers to six games in the bubble last year.
If the Canadiens only managed to reach Round 2 with the way Price was playing then, it’s fun to imagine where they’ll end up with him playing the way he is now. The Canadiens have played well-rounded games in each contest since going down 3-1 to the Maple Leafs, and their franchise-leading goalie has been a big part of why they’re the ones playing the Jets right now.
Covering the Montréal Canadiens and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.