BROSSARD, Que. – Hope and speculation ran high when Carey Price took to the ice in full equipment before the Montreal Canadiens’ game-day skate on Tuesday.
But coach Michel Therrien threw a wet blanket on it all when he said emphatically that Price will not play again in the NHL Eastern Conference final, even it the Canadiens managed to extend it to seven games.
“That’s just part of the process of making a comeback,” said Therrien. “He’s not going to play in that series. He’s not going to play.”
The goalie who backstopped Canada to gold at the Sochi Olympics in February has not played since suffering a right knee injury in the second period of the series opener when New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him while on a breakaway.
Therrien said at the time that Price would miss the rest of the series but may be back if Montreal advanced to the Stanley Cup final.
It appears that is still the plan.
Price had a brief skate wearing a track suit before practice on Monday and was out in his gear with goalie coach Stephane Waite and a trainer for about 30 minutes a day later. He didn’t put any pressure on the knee by making stops and starts.
But he was down on his knees and stopping shots from Waite, without moving from side to side.
“There is a process in place for him to come back, but it won’t be in the next few days,” said Therrien. “And we don’t want to start thinking about the next series because we have a (very) big game to play.
“But Carey is working really hard in physio and in the gym. (Monday) was a step, this was another step in his rehab. He’s working on what he has to do.”
Dustin Tokarski, the third stringer behind regular backup Peter Budaj, took over in the third period of the series opener and has been solid in goal, even though the Rangers took a 3-1 series lead going into Game 5 on Tuesday night.
The 24-year-old had played in only 10 regular season NHL games before this year’s playoffs, perhaps because teams are wary of using an undersized (five-foot-11) goalie, but the Watson, Sask., native has held his own.
In 11 periods of hockey from the first to the fourth game, including two overtimes, he allowed eight goals for a 2.63 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Price was 8-4-1 with a 2.36 average and .919 save percentage.
Forward Max Pacioretty has no worries about having Tokarski in the net.
“Not at all, anymore,” said Pacioretty. “You don’t see goalies get hurt too often, so at first it’s kind of a tough pill to swallow.
“But since Game 1 we’ve had confidence in Dustin. Each game he’s better and better and I think that confidence has gone to a whole new level.”
He was excited to see Price back on the ice, however.
“Seeing him every day and talking to him, we know his timeline and we know we have to win for him to come back,” he said. “And that he will come back if we win.
“So seeing him put the pads on gets the boys going a bit more than it would just seeing him on the (trainer’s) table. But we know we have to win to get him going and we want to do that for him.”
Defenceman Mike Weaver said Tokarski has earned the team’s confidence.
“Having a goalie back there where you know he’s going to make that key save consistently, everybody’s behind him,” said Weaver. “We’ve just got to concentrate on we do—speed, getting pucks to the net and getting bodies to the net.”
The Rangers had good news on the injury front as well as Derek Stepan skated while wearing a guard on his helmet to protect his broken jaw.
Stepan was injured in Game 3 on a blindside hit that earned Montreal’s Brandon Prust a two-game suspension. While Stepan finished the game, he had surgery the next day on his jaw.
He was to be checked out by three doctors, but was expected back in the lineup.
Coach Alain Vigneault was ready to welcome back one of his top centres.
“I could be wrong here, I think the last game he missed was his first one in four years, right?” said Vigneault. “He’s played all the games I’ve been here except for the last one, and prior to that he’s played all the games since he’s been a New York Ranger.
“He’s a good, young player that is a big part of our team. He plays huge minutes, plays five-on-five, power play, penalty killing. He’s the only right-handed face-off guy. So he’s a big part of our team and has been a big part of our team’s success.”