MONTREAL – The 21,273 Bell Centre spectators chanted Carey Price’s name early as the Montreal Canadiens rookie goaltender worked on his second career shutout.
Price made 38 saves as the Canadiens downed New Jersey 4-0 on Tuesday to jump past the Devils into first place in the Eastern Conference. “It’s tough not to be ready for the next shot when you hear that,” the 20-year-old said. “It definitely motivated me.”
Bryan Smolinski, Saku Koivu, Maxim Lapierre and Michael Ryder scored for Montreal (39-23-9), which moved one point ahead of New Jersey into first spot, although the Devils (40-24-6) hold a game in hand. The Canadiens also remained two points up on Ottawa, 4-1 winners against Boston, for top spot in the Northeast Division.
“Shutout aside, what we needed was the two points,” added Price, who had earned his first shutout on Feb. 16 against Philadelphia.
This time, his attention was focused early as he held off a furious barrage of shots during a four-minute New Jersey power play on a high-sticking penalty to Andrei Kostitsyn. The Devils outshot Montreal 20-14 in the first period, but the Canadiens emerged with a 2-0 lead.
And after losing his first face-to-face meeting with future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur 4-0 on Nov. 30, Price has now won their last two meetings, allowing one goal on 70 shots in the two games.
“It’s impressive to watch him,” Brodeur conceded. “We had a lot of good chances.
“What I like is the way he moves to get rebounds and get the puck. His future is very bright. He’ll get tested in the next few years with the pressure here.”
Rather than flashy sprawls or glove saves, it was solid play in his crease that earned Price the shutout as the Devils went hard to the net for tips and rebounds.
“There were a lot of tip plays, but the tips were hitting me,” said the fifth overall draft pick of 2005, whose development over the last two seasons gave the Canadiens confidence to trade off veteran goalie Cristobal Huet at the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline.
The win gave Montreal a 3-1-0 record against New Jersey for the season, taking a season-series over the Devils for the first time since 2003-04.
“It was a huge win for us – that team has given us fits in the last few years,” said winger Christopher Higgins.
The Devils outshot Montreal 38-33 overall, although the Canadiens had a 15-5 advantage in the third period.
Smolinski took a drop pass from Tom Kostopoulos on a counter-attack and fooled Brodeur with a high shot inside the near post 4:51 into the game.
“I fooled myself,” quipped Smolinski, although Brodeur said he “caught me leaning.”
Koivu finished a tic-tac-toe rush with Sergei Kostitsyn at 18:28 for the Montreal captain’s third goal in the last four games.
Lapierre made it 3-0 at 14:20 of the second frame as he tapped-in a perfect pass across the slot from Sergei Kostitsyn and then assisted on Ryder’s goal from a scramble in front of Brodeur with 2:21 left to play.
The Canadiens played their first home game since returning from a four-game western swing on which they allowed an average of 38 shots per game.
They were looking to cut down on shots-against, but coach Guy Carbonneau wasn’t disappointed, calling it a strong defensive effort overall.
Some players excelled, including Lapierre, veteran defenceman Roman Hamrlik and rookie forward Sergei Kostitsyn, who had two assists.
“I didn’t expect this season to be fighting for first place in our conference in March, but it’s plus,” Carbonneau said. “It’s great for our organization, our players and our fans.
“We have a young team. Every time you’re under pressure, you gain experience. If we want to go far in the playoffs, not only this year but in future years, we have to go through these experiences.”
Notes: Montreal centre Tomas Plekanec, who was doubtful with a flu, finally suited up, bumping Mikhail Grabovski from the lineup along with Steve Begin (groin) Mathieu Dandenault and Patrice Brisebois. . .Vitaly Vishnevski, Colin White, Paul Martin and Rodney Pelley didn’t play for the Devils.