It’s really nice that Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price has finally made it back to the conference final (or whatever you want to call this). Not only is he the winningest goalie on the winningest franchise in NHL history—a guy who’s given a decade-and-a-half of mostly strong and often transcendent puck-stopping to Montreal—but he also hadn’t yet had the opportunity to really give his all to a series this deep into the playoffs.
Price debuted with the Canadiens in 2007–08, and since that season, the Habs have made it to a conference final three times, including this series against Vegas. The first, a five-game loss to the Flyers in 2010, saw Price make just nine saves in relief in a 6-0 Game 1 loss, because Jaroslav Halak was still the team’s first choice. The second, a six-game loss to the Rangers in 2014, again saw Price in his prime play just two periods of Game 1, before an injury, for the second year in a row, ended his season early.
I didn’t think Price would ever get the chance to right those wrongs. He came back after the Rangers loss to turn in the best season of his career in 2014–15, but he couldn’t get Montreal past the Lightning in Round 2 that year. The next, he sprained his MCL and the Habs missed the playoffs entirely. In 2017, he came back, looked tremendous, and then got defeated in the first round by the Rangers, as his good bud and brand-new Predator PK Subban went on to make it farther than he ever had in Montreal.
The next two years Price and the Habs missed the playoffs twice, then lost in the first round after sneaking into the 2020 bubble as a 12-seed, and Price looked consistently subpar for the first time in his career. Three of his last four years, including this one, have seen a save percentage below .910. Montreal was slowly bringing in young talent for a future run—guys like Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi—but it did not at all feel like the 33-year-old Price would be the guy in net when they reached their full potential.
And yet here we are. The fourth-seeded Canadiens—the worst playoff team by points in the entire NHL—shocked the Leafs in seven, then perhaps shocked the Jets even more with a dominant sweep, and suddenly, they were the only ones with a shot to break Canada’s Cup drought. And aside from Andrei Vasilevskiy, nobody has been shutting teams down over the course of these playoffs better than Price, who’s allowing just 2.15 goals per game with a .929 save percentage as he’s returned from late-April concussion protocols to claim the Habs net as his and only his. Not a Jake Allen in sight. Price allowed just five goals on 109 shots in the final three facing-elimination wins of that Leafs series, getting better every game until he shut out Toronto for the first 58-and-a-half minutes of a 3-1 Game 7.
“I can’t tell you what it’s like playing in front of him,” Brendan Gallagher said after that game. “As soon as I saw that puck go in and we gave him one goal, it was almost like we knew it was going to be enough.”
That was almost literally true against Winnipeg, where he was just demoralizing, giving up only one goal (again with his team already winning 3-0) as Montreal took Games 2 and 3 by scores of 1-0 and 5-1, respectively. But Vegas is a different beast, and they proved it on Monday night. As loathe as I am to say that a goalie had a good game in a lopsided loss, Price had a pretty good game! At least for someone who gave up four goals. He had one save, in particular, that rocked my world. Jonathan Marchessault seemed to have such a clear opportunity to score that my brain couldn’t process it when Price suddenly slid over to make the stop.
This glove save, too, stands out as pretty dang brilliant. Even the smallest boosts of morale in a 4-1 loss are probably hard to come by, but the fact that Price kept it from being an even worse loss certainly can’t hurt.
But even if you want to pick out a few bright spots that ultimately serve to underscore how much the ice was tilted Vegas’s way, this was a very rough night for Montreal, and for Price especially. Barry already covered this in great detail, but what I can’t get over is the sheer rudeness of that second goal, the one where Shea Theodore passed up a shot and sent it over to Alec Martinez. It forced Price to go sprawling—flopping, even!—in a desperate and failed attempt to block the shot that would hold up as the game winner.
I don’t even have a dog in this fight, but I hate to see this happen to Price. After a legendary and memorable career, he finally has a no-strings-attached opportunity to carry his team into the Stanley Cup Final, and yet, if Game 1, is any indication, his job will instead be a miserable and chaotic effort to maintain some hope in his skaters as they try and battle it out against clearly more talented opposition, and a Vegas goalie (also a guy nobody really expected to make another Cup run) that’s just as good as their own. I’m not saying Montreal is dead by any means—not after just 60 minutes, and not with three games left at the arena where 2,500 feels like 25,000 I swear to god—but even for a team that’s done nothing but surprise, it would take a truly spectacular upset for the Habs to get by Vegas. Carey really deserved better odds than this.