BROSSARD, Que. – Without Carey Price, the run for a first Stanley Cup in 21 years got steeper and longer for the Montreal Canadiens.
Coach Michel Therrien looked grim and even angry as he delivered the news Monday morning that the goaltender who backstopped Canada to gold at the Sochi Olympics will miss the rest of the NHL Eastern Conference final.
He gave no details of the injury, a suspected right knee problem, but suggested Price would be back if the Canadiens can get past the New York Rangers and reach the Stanley Cup final.
“Carey Price won’t be able to play, not only for tonight but for the rest of the series,” said Therrien. “Really disappointed. He’s our best player.
“We need to rally around Carey. We need to give him a chance to play again this season.”
According to Bodog, those words sent betting money went flying off the Canadiens bandwagon and onto New York’s as Montreal pondered the notion of winning with either backup Peter Budaj or third stringer Dustin Tokarski in goal.
The coach would not say which of them would start in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series on Monday night.
Budaj has been with the NHL club all season, but has a terrible career playoff record that includes an 0-2-0 record and an .843 save percentage.
Tokarski had never played an NHL playoff game, but the 24-year-old has excelled at every level, winning a Memorial Cup with Spokane in 2008, a world junior championship with Canada in 2009 and an AHL title with Norfolk in 2012.
He was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2008 and acquired by Montreal Feb. 14, 2013 for Cedrick Desjardins in a swap of minor-league goalies. He spent most of the season with AHL Hamilton, but played three games for Montreal this season and posted a 2-0 shutout against Buffalo.
Price clutched his right knee when Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him skates-first at 3:15 of the second period of New York’s shock 7-2 win in the series opener on Saturday afternoon.
The Canadiens goaltender got up and finished the period, but didn’t look comfortable as he allowed two goals in the final 1:01. He was replaced in the third by Budaj, who allowed three goals on eight shots.
After the game, Therrien said he took Price out not because of an injury but because there was no use leaving him in with the team playing poorly.
He was angrier the next day when it became clear the injury was worse than first suspected, saying Kreider could have tried to avoid the collision. And he was simmering on Monday, pointing out Kreider’s history of hitting goalies.
Kreider left Ottawa’s Craig Anderson with a knee injury when he crashed the crease during the regular season and he also elbowed Marc-Andre Fleury’s head in Game 6 of the conference semifinals, although the Pittsburgh goalie was not hurt.
“Looking at the incident, it’s a reckless play,” said Therrien. “That’s the truth.
“And Kreider, that’s not the first time he’s going at goalies. So we end up losing our best player. But our group faced a lot of adversity throughout the course of the season. We have the attitude to respond really well and that’s what I’m expecting, starting tonight.”
Kreider said his main regret was that he missed the net with his shot as he went in on a breakaway and lost his footing.
“Obviously, I was trying to score a goal,” the speedy six-foot-three, 226-pound forward said. “I’m here to play my game and play hard and I think I’m a clean player.
“I don’t go out with the intent to hurt anyone, ever, so I’m going to continue to try and get to the net and score goals.”
In the third period, Montreal’s Brandon Prust slashed and cross-checked Kreider, earning two minor penalties and a misconduct. But Therrien said the Canadiens were more concerned with trying to win the series than with vengeance.
“We know what happened with Kreider, we know his history, we know a lot of things,” said Therrien. “But our main focus is to make sure we play a solid game.
“Make sure we play hard, we play with passion, that we be disciplined, and play the way we are capable of playing.”
The Canadiens are now in the same predicament as Tampa Bay, their first round opponent that was missing injured starting goaltender Ben Bishop. Montreal swept the series.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said it won’t change their game plans against Montreal.
“Prior to the series, we had prepared for three possible goaltenders, obviously, spending more time on Price,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate what happened to him.
“But for us, it’s business as usual.”