MONTREAL – Carey Price was driving to the rink from his pre-game meal on Tuesday when he spied his old goaltending partner Cristobal Huet on the street.
There was only time for a quick exchange of greetings, because their real encounter was about to happen on the Bell Centre ice.
And the 21-year-old Price ended up getting the better of his 33-year-old former mentor as the Montreal Canadiens downed the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1.
Price and Huet shared the Montreal net last season until Huet was dealt to Washington at the trade deadline. The French goaltender signed a rich four-year contract as a free agent with Chicago in the summer.
“I gave him a hug out of my window,” Price said of his first meeting with Huet since the trade. “We had a green light coming, so we couldn’t talk too much.
“But it was a sad day for me when he got traded. It was almost like having an older brother. He was a guy I looked up to for advice. He was everything I wanted out of a partner.”
Alex Kovalev scored in the first minute while Guillaume Latendresse, Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider also scored for Montreal (39-27-10), which hung onto the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Florida Panthers.
It cost them, though, as forward Sergei Kostitsyn and defenceman Roman Hamrlik suffered what the team called upper body injuries in separate incidents.
Montreal’s win eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators from playoff contention. The Senators lost 5-2 to Florida on Tuesday, while the Leafs were idle.
Patrick Sharp broke Price’s shutout bid in the third period for the Blackhawks (40-24-11), who were coming off a 4-0 loss at home on Sunday to the Vancouver Canucks, the team they are battling in the Western Conference standings.
“He’s a good goalie and he’s going to have a great career,” Huet said of Price. “When you talk about being a mentor, I don’t know. But he had a good game tonight.”
The Blackhawks, who went 6-7-2 in March, return home to face St. Louis on Wednesday night.
Montreal outshot the Hawks 33-29, but Chicago snipers probably had the edge in good scoring chances. Patrick Kane and Andrew Ladd fired five shots each, but couldn’t beat Price, who had what coach Bob Gainey called “his best compete game in a long time.
“Any time you have a goaltender who gives off an aura of confidence and who is making the strong saves and cleaning up his area, it’s part of what makes up a good team game. It allows the other players to relax.”
Price struggled after returning from an injury just ahead of the all-star break, but looks to be rounding into form. He has started Montreal’s last four games, allowing nine goals while posting a 3-0-1 record.
Huet’s first game against Montreal since the trade started badly.
Only 25 seconds in, Duncan Keith’s weak blind pass intended for defence partner Brent Seabrook was picked off by Kovalev at the side of the net for his sixth goal in the last four games.
That got the crowd of 21,273 chanting Huet’s name, but he made 13 saves before the period was over.
At 6:12 of the second frame, Latendresse put his own rebound off Huet’s midsection. The puck flew up in the air and landed in the net.
“We need to avoid those goals – fluke or not fluke, it doesn’t matter,” said Huet. “Now it seems to be happening to us every game – deflections, everything is going against us.”
Markov was at the left post to bang in Saku Koivu’s rebound on a power play at 15:52.
Sharp was at the left point to one-time a pass from Brian Campbell through traffic to the top corner for his 26th goal of the season at 12:18 of the third.
Markov kept a Chicago clearing attempt in at the blue-line and slipped a pass across to Schneider to score on a power play at 16:43 with Chris Higgins acting as a screen in front.
It looked as though Higgins got a piece of it and he joked that “I think I’m stealing that one from him,” but there was no immediate word on an official scoring change.
Gainey said the team won’t know until Wednesday whether injuries to Kostitsyn and Hamrlik are serious, but he is not seeking any further discipline against any Chicago players.
At 13:34 of the first period, Sergei Kostitsyn left the game after he made an awkward move and his head was slammed hard into the end boards by Aaron Johnson. His brother Andrei jumped in to fight Johnson and got four extra minutes in penalties. Sergei did not return to the game.
Hamrlik left at 11:06 of the second after he fell hard along the boards into linesman Pierre Champoux and then was clipped on the helmet by the passing Ben Eager. Hamrlik was penalized for interference on the play.
“There are body checks in a game,” said Gainey. “It’s chasing your tail trying to nail down which is and which isn’t a penalty.
“I don’t want to comment.”
The Canadiens went 4-3-3 in the 10-game stretch, including nine home games, since Gainey, the general manager, replaced Guy Carbonneau behind the bench. Four of their last six games are on the road, beginning Thursday night in Uniondale, N.Y., against the Islanders.
Notes: The Canadiens were scheduled to wear their multi-striped vintage “pyjamas” uniforms, but opted for the visually quieter 1913-14 jersey with CA instead of CH on the front. . . There was concern that Higgins wouldn’t play due to a flu, but he was in the lineup and was one of his team’s most energetic skaters with seven shots on goal. . . Ryan O’Byrne, Georges Laraque, Matt D’Agostini and Greg Stewart didn’t dress . . . Matt Walker and Troy Brouwer didn’t play for Chicago. . . Martin Havlat played his 74th game of the season, a personal high for the oft-injured right winger . . The Hawks are (11-3-1) against Canadian teams this season, winning the first 11.