MONTREAL – The last time Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price was on the ice at the Bell Centre, he was being booed as he was named third star in a 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
When he was summoned by head coach Jacques Martin to relieve Jaroslav Halak in Game 3 of the Habs Eastern Conference quarter-final series with the Washington Capitals on Monday, Price stepped on the ice to rousing applause from those same fans.
Though Price was trying to get focused on the game, he couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between those two reactions.
“Yeah, I actually did notice,” Price said after stopping 21 of 23 shots in Montreal’s 5-1 loss to Washington. “It was really nice and really appreciated. I’ve been working my (butt) off to play well for the fans. To get a reaction like that let’s me know that it’s been paying off.”
The reason for that cheering could be that the Canadiens faithful realize the playoff hopes of their beloved team now lie in the hands of Price, the one-time franchise goalie who lost his starting job to Halak this season.
Halak has allowed eight goals on the last 30 shots he’s faced, dating back to late in the second period of Game 2 in Washington. It was generally conceded that the one area where the Canadiens needed to better than the Capitals in this series was goaltending, and that hasn’t been the case thus far.
Price played all four regular season games against Washington this season and acquitted himself as well as could be expected against the league’s deadliest offensive arsenal of players.
Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin scored a combined 90 goals this season, but combined for only three in four games against Price and the Canadiens.
“Coach is going to have to make the decision for the next game, no decision has been made,” Price said when asked if he felt he’d earned the Game 4 start. “But it was nice to get in there and feel a few pucks and get some game action.”
Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin said the reason he called on Price was to change the momentum in a 3-0 game, and refused to say Halak had a poor outing.
“He made some good saves in the first (period) when he had to,” Martin said. “When we lost the momentum, they capitalized.”
Whether Price goes in for Game 4 or not, the Canadiens will need to take advantage of their offensive opportunities if they want to knot this series at two games apiece.
Montreal had several excellent chances to open the scoring in the first period Monday night but couldn’t capitalize, instead heading back to the locker-room in a scoreless draw.
“I thought we had our best first period maybe all year, but in the series for sure,” said centre Tomas Plekanec. “Then they scored on our power play.”
That would be Boyd Gordon scoring a short-handed goal at 1:06 of the second off a 2-on-1 rush, sucking some of the life out of an electric Bell Centre.
The loss shifted the home ice advantage back to the Capitals after the Canadiens stole it with a Game 1 victory in Washington, but that could be irrelevant if Montreal is unable to tie the series Wednesday night.
It’s somewhat ironic that after all the drama that has followed him this year, the responsibility of getting that win could fall on Price.