BROSSARD, Que. – Carey Price makes it clear that he can’t be expected to beat the Boston Bruins on his own.
“No player has ever won the Stanley Cup by themselves – everyone’s got to support each other,” the Montreal Canadiens’ second-year goaltender told a mob of reporters after practice on Tuesday.
But it may take a Herculean effort from Price for the Canadiens to upset the top-seeded Bruins when their best-of-seven NHL playoff series opens Thursday night in Boston (7 p.m. ET).
The Bruins went 5-0-1 against Montreal this season, with Price in goal for five of those games (1-2-2), allowing 18 goals for a mediocre 3.46 goals-against average and a .878 save percentage.
Price finished the season strong, but it has mostly been an up-and-down campaign for the 21-year-old who was anointed the No. 1 goaltender late in the 2007-08 season when the Canadiens traded veteran Cristobal Huet to Washington.
His backup Jaroslav Halak has even less experience yet has filled in ably during Price’s bad stretches. But the coaches have always been quick to get their No. 1 goalie back in as soon as he shows signs of getting back on form.
The Canadiens picked Price fifth overall in the 2005 draft and, while the talent is evident in the six-foot-three 220-pounder, the confidence and perhaps sometimes the effort has not always been there.
Coach and general manager Bob Gainey’s response to Price’s performance swings was to work on the team’s defensively play in front of him, so the goaltender only has to make the first save and let the rearguards clear rebounds and move the puck out of the zone.
And Price has decided not to beat himself up if a goal goes in.
“The playoff are when everyone has to step up, not just myself,” the soft-spoken Price said. “That’s what makes championship teams – everyone playing well together.
“It’s a team sport. It’s not like I’m playing tennis. I’ve learned that you can’t get frustrated. You can’t just blame yourself. There are 19 other guys out there.”
Montreal fans wish for Price to be another Patrick Roy, who almost singlehandedly took underdog Canadiens teams to Stanley Cups in 1986 and 1993, but Price is a different specimen in and out of the net.
Roy would go into a trance-like state in the post-season, as though completely focused on stopping the puck and winning.
Price is still young and has a more relaxed bearing. Taking the pressure to carry the team off his shoulders seems a better way to get the most from a goalie who can be near-unbeatable when he is on top of his game.
The same goalie led Canada to gold at the 2007 world junior championship and then led the Hamilton Bulldogs to an AHL Calder Cup victory later in the same season.
“He needs to play his game and do his thing, just like everyone else,” said defenceman Josh Gorges. “We can’t expect him to go out and win the series for us, and not let any goals in.
“Goals are going to get scored. We just have to make sure that whatever happens, we don’t get frustrated, we don’t get down. Yeah, we need him at his best, but we need everyone at their best. We can’t rely on him to carry us.”
Dealing with expectations in hockey-mad Montreal seems to have been a difficult adjustment for Price, but now he says he “just stopped caring about what people say.”
Gorges, a fellow British Columbia native, said Price is learning how to handle pressure as he goes along.
“It’s tough on anybody but especially for him, under the microscope that he is,” said Gorges. “He wins a couple of games early and everyone’s pumping him up, telling him how great he is.
“Then all of a sudden the team loses a couple of games and everyone says it’s his fault. It’s tough to deal with when you’re going from the hero to the goat every three or four games. But throughout the year, you could see him deal with it better and better and getting more mature and over time. It made him stronger. In the last little while, he’s definitely upped his game. He’s on top of his game right now.”
A year ago, Montreal had finished first in the conference and Boston was the eighth seed when Price outduelled Tim Thomas in a tough seven-game first-round series.
But Price went to pieces in the second round as the Canadiens were ousted in five games by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Now the roles are reversed with Boston, and Thomas is a Vezina Trophy candidate after leading the NHL with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.
But Thomas has always had trouble with the Canadiens, posting a career 8-12-2 record with a 2.98 average. He was 4-0-1 and allowed only 11 goals in five games against Montreal this year, but he had a spot of trouble in their last meeting as the Canadiens beat him three times in the second period of a 5-4 Boston overtime win last week.
“Once you’re in the playoffs, everyone has a chance,” said Price. “I think we can beat any team.
“You work 82 games to get into this little tournament. Everyone gets an equal shot at it. If one team peaks at the right time, they could win it.”
The last Canadiens-Bruins match-up was filled with skirmishes, and Price smiled when asked what he would do if he ever had to drop the gloves with Thomas, who has an explosive temper.
“I don’t know – Timmy gets a little squirrelly sometimes,” he said. “I know him a bit. I don’t know if I could drop the mitts with Timmy. We’re more likely to two-step.”
Defenceman Andrei Markov, who missed the last four games with an undisclosed injury, did not practice and remains doubtful for Game 1. Rearguard Francis Bouillon skated for about 30 minutes but there is no precise timetable for his return from a torn groin.
In Boston, centre Patrice Bergeron practised and is expected to play. Bergeron injured a foot when hit by a Yannick Weber point blast against Montreal last week.
“I’m back now, I’m fine,” said Bergeron, who can’t wait to play against Montreal. “It’s the Montreal Canadiens. It’s the playoffs. It’s a big rivalry and they’re always tough in the playoffs.”
Defenceman Andrew Ference did not practice and remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.