After being a spectator for much of last season’s magical post-season run, Carey Price was back in the middle of the playoff action Thursday.
The Canadiens netminder made 31 saves for his third post-season shutout and Brian Gionta scored twice as Montreal defeated the Boston Bruins 2-0 in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round series.
“If we were able to write down on paper how we would have wanted to start the series this would have been it,” said Price, who started just one of the Habs’ 19 playoff games last season and had little traffic in front on Thursday.
“You need to take away his vision,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “We were all around the net but we weren’t in front.”
Game 2 goes Saturday night in Boston.
Price sat for most of last year’s playoffs, watching Jaroslav Halak carry the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference finals where they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. But Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blues in June and Price regained the starting job he had lost at midseason last year.
This season, he started 70 games.
“He was our most valuable player in the regular season and he gave us a chance to win every night,” Montreal coach Jacques Martin said.
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Buffalo 1, Philadelphia 0; and San Jose 3, Los Angeles 2, (OT).
At Boston, Price finished third in the NHL with eight shutouts, seventh with a .923 save percentage and 10th with a 2.35 goals-against average. His eight shutouts ranked third. But Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was the best in the league with a 2.00 goals against average, a .938 save percentage and a .718 winning percentage and second with nine shutouts.
But Thomas couldn’t do much to stop Gionta’s goal at 2:44 of the first period on a pass from Scott Gomez from the left boards. Gionta and Mathieu Darche both got behind the Bruins defence with Darche directly in front of Thomas and Gionta on the right side of the crease. Darche let the puck go by and Gionta put it in between Thomas’ left side and the post.
“I didn’t know there was a guy at the back door,” Thomas said. “I was playing the guy in front and it looked like he was the one that was going to pick it off, and by the time I realized that it got through him and over to Gionta he made a quick shot. If he holds it a half second more I can get over there.”
Gomez also assisted on Gionta’s other goal at 16:42 of the third period.
“Anytime in the playoffs you can take one on the road and it’s the first one, that’s big,” Gomez said.
The game was played cleanly without any fights between the teams that had several physical confrontations during the regular season.
In Boston’s 8-6 win at home on Feb. 9 there were 45 penalties for 182 minutes. On March 8 in Montreal, the Canadiens won 4-1, a victory overshadowed by Zdeno Chara’s hard hit that drove Max Pacioretty into a stanchion between the team’s benches. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a cracked vertebra. Chara was penalized but not suspended by the NHL and Montreal police announced an investigation.
The Bruins dominated play for most of the last two periods, but it was a disappointing playoff start after a disastrous end to their post-season last year. They won the first three games over the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But Philadelphia forced a seventh game in which it rallied from a 3-0 deficit to a 4-3 victory.
One of the Bruins best stretches Thursday came after killing a penalty midway through the second period. They fired numerous shots at Price, several stopped by Montreal players before reaching the net.
At 11:45 of the period, Patrice Bergeron had a clear shot from 15 feet on the left but put it into Price’s midsection.
Price’s outstanding performance was a major change from his last two games in Boston in which he allowed 13 goals. He let in all of Boston’s goals in the 8-6 loss Feb. 9 and five in a 7-0 loss on March 24.
“Things that happen in the regular season don’t necessarily happen in the playoffs because it costs a lot more,” Price said. “Teams are playing differently.”
At Philadelphia, Ryan Miller stopped 35 shots for his second career post-season shutout and Patrick Kaleta scored to lift Buffalo over the Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoff series.
Miller stopped every shot under all types of pressure and carried the Sabres to the clutch opening win. The teams have met eight times in the post-season and the Game 1 winner won the series each time.
Kaleta snapped the scoreless tie early in the third period when he powered a rebound past rookie Sergei Bobrovsky.
No team was more resilient in last year’s playoffs than the Flyers. They trailed Boston 3-0 in the East semifinals before taking the series and playing until a Game 6 loss to Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals.
At San Jose, Calif., Joe Pavelski scored 14:44 into overtime to give the Sharks a victory over the Kings in Game 1 of their all-California opening round playoff series.
Pavelski took a pass from Kyle Wellwood as the trailer on a three-on-two advantage and fired a forehand past Jonathan Quick for his third career playoff overtime goal.
Dany Heatley and Logan Couture also scored for the Sharks, who had lost five of their previous six series openers. Antti Niemi made 33 saves.