The 2020-21 season was an unusually rough season for Carey Price.
Even with a 12-7-5 record, Price’s stats were far below his career average and closer to the bottom among starting goalies than the top. Two injuries took him out of play for over a month, and when he finally got a chance to play an AHL game with Laval on Monday, he allowed two goals on 15 shots in two periods of play.
Thursday night was a different story. In a tightly contested game against the top-seed Toronto Maple Leafs, Price made 35 saves in his return to the Canadiens’ crease, making a highlight-reel diving blocker save on Mitch Marner with under 10 minutes to go in the third period.
In a series where the Canadiens desperately need Price to be the difference-maker, they clearly got him at his best in Game 1. Price has never experienced a shot at the Stanley Cup, but he has a history of arriving in important situations. If it wasn’t for his elite goaltending against Pittsburgh last year, the Canadiens would have secured the upset. Even despite losing to Philadelphia in the first official round, he had some of the best stats in the entire playoffs. Rinse and repeat in 2015 and 2017.
“That’s Carey Price for you,” Canadiens forward Josh Anderson said after the game. “He was an absolute wall tonight.”
Since taking the net back from Jaroslav Halak in 2011, Price has a measly 26-25 record in the playoffs – but his 2.17 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 52 post-season contests makes him one of the better playoff goaltenders in that span. And while a long playoff run will be a challenge for the Canadiens this year, more outings like Thursday are needed – and should be expected from one of the league’s best goaltenders.
Those numbers don’t mean a whole lot if you don’t have any hardware to show for, but you can’t blame Price for Montreal’s lack of success over the past decade. The team has struggled to put together a group of big names together in a favorable fashion and Montreal has hardly been the favorite in a playoff series over that span. At least you can count on Price being a factor.
Much was made on social media about the video circulating of him breaking his stick after allowing a goal in practice. Some said he was fired up, motivated to win. Others said he wasn’t focused. But the focus was clearly there when it mattered and despite Toronto having the better stats at 5-on-5, Price made things happen for Montreal. All that matters is the victory in the end.
“It’s a new ball game right now,” Price said after the game. “Obviously we had our struggles throughout the season, but we got to the playoffs. It’s a new season. We’re just trying to take it step by step now.”
Heading into the game, Price held a 27-17-5 record against the Leafs with four shutouts and a .914 save percentage. Against Toronto this year, his record was 1-2-1, but he swept the Leafs in all three starts back in 2019-20 – twice in extra time. The Leafs were obviously taken aback by the loss of captain John Tavares to a scary injury in the first period, but once they regained their momentum, Toronto found it challenging trying to beat Price.
Price has never seemed to care what other people think. He’s calm, cool and collected in the crease and his mental toughness has always been a big feature in his game. Even when he’s struggling, he doesn’t seem to be down for long often. That extended break after a rough few months allowed him to recharge and recover, and while the post-season almost started to look in jeopardy late in the going, the belief was that the Canadiens were only going to bring him back when he was healthy.
He surely looked 100 percent in Game 1.
It’s just the first game of what could be a long playoff series between two teams that haven’t met up in the post-season in any of the player’s lifetime – even the ageless Joe Thornton wasn’t born until a few months after the 1979 series.
But Canadiens fans have to love the performance they saw from Price on Thursday. That’s the Jesus Price they remember all too well.
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