Canadiens Need Price to Exorcise Playoff Demons

Compared to his regular-season success, Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price’s playoff record remains relatively spotty. That’s saying a lot.

Carey Price Montreal Canadiens
Carey Price – (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yes, Price did capture the 2015 Hart Memorial and Vezina trophies and he’s consistently recognized by his peers as one of the best goalies in the game. Regardless, if the Canadiens fail to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in their play-in series and advance to the playoffs, they’ll have missed the postseason in four of the last five seasons. So, there hasn’t been a lot of recent success on that front either in general.

Price Has Peaked

Even though Price is undeniably a great goalie, he can’t be considered dominant, at least not to the degree he once was. The results simply aren’t there, arguably to a greater degree with regard to his playoff record.

Consider how Price made his Canadiens debut in 2007-08. That’s 12 years ago already. He’s only won four series. Excluding this season, that’s one victory every three springs. It’s simply not good enough, at least to objectively call Price a legitimate threat to steal a series, which is what the Habs are likely going to need as a mere .500 team and the worst in the standings to reach the qualifying round.

Count those series if you like:

  • A 4-3 first-round win over the Boston Bruins in 2008 (.925 save percentage)
  • A 4-0 first-round win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2013-14 (.904)
  • A 4-3 second-round win over the Bruins in 2013-14 (.936)
  • A 4-2 first-round win over the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15 (.940)

So, Price has effectively stolen two series in his career (maybe three if you give him the first against the Bruins in 2008). Now, three out four isn’t bad, but all that means is if the Habs win a series, it’s likely going to be because Price was outstanding. There’s a flipside to that: He’s also played 11 total series.

Boston Bruins Brad Marchand Montreal Canadiens Carey Price
Carey Price and Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

In other words, three out of four may not be bad, but a 4-7 record is. Overall, Price has earned a 25-31 career playoff record with a 2.53 goal-against average and .914 save percentage. Those aren’t horrible numbers, but they are middle-of-the-road in nature, nothing more.

Price No. 43 All Time

To illustrate the point further, Price is ranked No. 43 all-time in terms of playoff save percentage and No. 17 among active goalies, many of whom will be in competition this spring. Looking at just the projected starters on the 11 other Eastern Conference teams, Tuukka Rask, Braden Holtby, Matt Murray, Semyon Varlamov, and Henrik Lundqvist all have higher career playoff save percentages than Price.

That’s effectively half the field, with Elvis Merzlikins and Carter Hart never even having suited up for a playoff game yet. As much faith as one may have in Price, it’s hard to make the argument the Canadiens have an absolute advantage in net, which is a scary thought, considering the value the Habs place in Price day in, day out. He’s the only advantage they would have under normal circumstances. These days, the playoffs are far from normal for this team.

Price is a great goalie, but there’s no disputing his lack of playoff results. Some of his most fervent fans may argue it’s all about the team in front of him, but we’re talking about a goalie the Habs have successfully relied on for MVP-caliber seasons to get them to the playoffs before. Ultimately, asking him to stand on his head for two more months, consistently against higher-quality competition, is too much, especially when he’s only proven capable of stealing at most one round each season.

More to the point, Price has only been out of the second round once in his career, in 2014. In 2010, when the Habs reached the third round for the first of two times in his career, Jaroslav Halak was the No. 1 goalie. Indeed, the closest the Habs have come to reaching the Stanley Cup Final with Price has been with another goalie in net, not just in 2010, but 2014 as well when Dustin Tokarski was forced to take over for him after New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him in Game 1.

Jaroslav Halak Boston Bruins
Ex-Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak – (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Of note, Price also failed to play in the Habs’ final playoff games in 2013 due to injury. He was also injured to end the 2016 and 2012 regular seasons, during which the Habs didn’t make the playoffs at all. Add it all up, and Price definitely has a lot to prove against the Penguins. He has to see this through, maybe more than anyone else on the Habs roster… and that would be just to help them officially reach the playoffs.

It’s Up to the Habs as a Whole, Including Price

Thankfully, Price is at the very least well-rested, which is quite probably a first for him to start the playoffs. Any suggestion him running the table would be anything but a first in its own right would be revisionist history at its worst, though. Maybe his health is all it takes for him to rediscover his MVP form, but make no mistake: a Stanley Cup champion is much more than a single MVP player, as evidenced by the fact the last Hart winner to capture the Stanley Cup was Martin St. Louis in 2004 (Tampa Bay Lightning).

In essence, it’s up to the Canadiens to win the Cup for Price more than it is the other way around. It’s not just that it would only be fair considering Price’s contributions to this team’s success during the regular season, but also that it’s also unfair to assume Price is capable of turning it on to that degree. It’s theoretically possible, as goalies have effectively done it before (just maybe not over five rounds instead of four), but it’s up to Price to prove he can, because he has yet to up to now.

Canadiens Goalie Carey Price
Carey Price – (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire)

Of course, they say you only haven’t until you have. In that respect, Game 1 against the Pens could be the start of something very special indeed. Even if it’s only because there’s not much to begin with, it’s undeniably true that Price can only add to his playoff legend from here.