Many might believe the Montreal Canadiens are playing with house money against the Vegas Golden Knights in the third round, that it doesn’t matter if they win or lose at this point. Nevertheless, each win holds special significance, like Game 2, which was goalie Carey Price’s first-ever third-round victory in his career.
Price Reaches Halak Territory
Believe it or not, it’s true. Up until 2021, the Habs reached the third round twice during Price’s career. The first time around in 2010, Price effectively backed up Jaroslav Halak. While Price did get in four games total that playoff run, including one in relief of Halak against the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 3, Halak’s heroics stole that show that spring.
Granted, Halak eventually ran out of gas that round. He and the Canadiens won just one game against the Flyers, as the Habs bowed out in five, despite eliminating the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in Round 1 and the Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2.
The second time for Price was of course in 2014. In the third round, Price played just Game 1, in which New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him, taking him out of the series in the process. At the time, the Canadiens had been struggling, with Price having allowed four goals in two periods’ worth of work. The Canadiens lost the game 7-2.
While the Habs did rebound in the series somewhat, earning two victories in the series, they each belonged to third-stringer Dustin Tokarski (to whom then-head coach Michel Therrien turned instead of backup Peter Budaj). The rest is history, with Price rebounding himself, winning the Hart Memorial and Vezina trophies the following season to officially establish himself as the best goalie in the league and perhaps the world.
Price Regains Status as One of Best in the World
Price held onto the unofficial title for a few seasons. He got injured for most of the 2015-16 season and was able to post good numbers in 2016-17. From there on out though, his regular-season numbers declined to mediocre levels. Even this past regular season, Price went 12-7-5 with a 2.64 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, with backup Jake Allen going 11-12-5 with a 2.68 GAA and .907 save percentage.
Allen had been coming off an extraordinary campaign as St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington’s backup in 2019-20. General manager Marc Bergevin obviously traded for and then extended Allen to adequately rest Price after it became clear the No. 1, as a 33-year-old goalie, could no longer handle a 60-plus-game workload. After all, following a five-month layoff due to the pandemic last season, Price rediscovered his dominant self, posting a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage in 10 postseason games, in the process earning his first series win, albeit in the play-in round, since 2015.
These playoffs, Price has firmly proven last summer was no fluke. While it’s hard to legitimately consider him one of the best goalies in the world considering his regular-season performance, his clutch, big-game ability is nothing at which to scoff. Since he became the Canadiens’ official No. 1 goalie following the Halak trade in 2014, Price is 13-6 with a .931 save percentage during games in which either the Habs or their opponents face elimination.
True, Game 2 against the Vegas Golden Knights doesn’t fit into that category, but it was still technically the biggest win of his career… until the next one this round that is. While there are no guarantees the Canadiens win another game this series, they’ve at least proven that they belong. So, too has Price in the conversation of elite goalies.
He’s of course been there before. However, for him to jump right back in at this stage of his career is no small feat. The Canadiens themselves still have a lot to prove, namely that this team is properly constructed to consistently hang with the league’s top teams. They took a large step forward in Game 2, with Price starring as he has consistently these playoffs.
It shouldn’t matter that Price is stealing games for the Canadiens, as he’s a (key) part of the team. After all, no one questions a team’s victory if it’s on the strength of a star forward’s hat trick. Question the Habs’ propensity to get past the Golden Knights if you must, but not the caliber of goaltending they’re getting all the while.
In accomplishing something he never has before in his career, Price has effectively afforded this Canadiens run and his own career an extra degree of credibility. He of course had the credentials heading in, but this is yet another no one can take away from him. Admittedly, it’s not the milestone on which he has his sights set, but, to get to the promised land, every step counts. And now, for whatever it’s worth, he’s technically closer than he’s ever been.