BROSSARD, Que. – Carey Price knew what he doing when he raised his arms to the Bell Centre crowd in defiance of their booing, but insisted he doesn’t want to leave the Montreal Canadiens.
“I made that particular gesture to remind people that booing doesn’t always help,” the goaltender said Thursday, a day after the Canadiens were eliminated from the NHL playoffs in a four-game sweep by the Boston Bruins.
The Canadiens 100th anniversary season, which began with Stanley Cup hopes, ended with Bell Centre fans booing and throwing debris on the ice after a thorough crushing by top-seeded Boston and controversy over Price.
With Boston leading 4-1 late in the second period, the crowd gave a mock cheer to Price when the 21-year-old stopped an easy dump-in from the red line and he responded by raising his arms to them.
It was the same gesture used in December, 1995 by former goaltending great Patrick Roy on the night he demanded a trade from the Canadiens. Roy was dealt to Colorado a few days later and ended up winning a Stanley Cup that season.
“It was a way of expressing myself,” Price said. “They wanted to express themselves and I thought I would too.
“It seems since the Calder Cup and the world juniors (in 2007) there have been high expectations on me. I’d like to meet them, but sometimes I’m not able to. Sometimes I think I’m put on too high a pedestal and get thrown under the bus too much.”
However, he added that he wants to stay in Montreal, which he said was great place to play “when things go well.”
The Canadiens finished first in the NHL Eastern Conference in 2007-08 and few expected them to have to squeak into the eighth and final playoff spot in the final week of the season.
They had a strong first half, but it all unravelled with injuries, controversy and a coaching change after the all-star game Jan. 25.
Coach and general manager Bob Gainey said injuries were a factor, but he also pointed a finger at Tampa Bay Lightning GM Brian Lawton, who he said disrupted his team by letting the names of players involved in failed trade talks for star centre Vincent Lecavalier become public.
“The second half of our season was when things started to go off course and I felt the first place was when we had discussions with Tampa Bay,” said Gainey. “We had an agreement with them.
“I got a call in January from them with a list of names that they wanted to talk about and those players ended up in public because they used those names to take them to other teams to see if they could create a different trade for Vincent Lecavalier. I think it was disgraceful that Josh Gorges, Tomas Plekanec and Chris Higgins have to read that stuff.”
Lawton later told the St. Pete Times that Gainey’s statement was “absolutely false. It’s preposterous and simply not true.”
Plekanec and Higgins, both restricted free agents this summer, were among several Canadiens to struggle this season, along with brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, second-year defenceman Ryan O’Byrne and Price.
Now, decisions not only loom on which players to keep, but on who will be on the coaching staff next season.
Gainey, who replaced Guy Carbonneau behind the bench on March 9, would prefer not to remain as coach, but said it would take two or three weeks to make a decision on the job.
He hopes to stay on as general manager, a position he has held since 2003, but that will be up to the team owners and executive. And with all or part of the club up for sale by owner George Gillett, all positions are in question.
What Gainey does not question is his decision to stick with Price, the fifth overall draft pick in 2005 who shows flashes of brilliance, but who looks to be struggling to adjust to the life of NHL hockey.
Late last season, Gainey traded veteran goalie Cristobal Huet to hand Price the starting job.
Price was 24-12-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage as a rookie, but dropped to 23-16-10 with a 2.83 average and a .905 save percentage this season, which was marred by an injury just ahead of the all-star break.
Down the stretch of the playoff race and into the post-season, there were repeated calls to lift Price and go with back-up Jaroslav Halak, but Gainey didn’t budge.
“Carey Price is a thoroughbred,” said Gainey. “I made a decision to put Carey in a position to gain experience.
“He got into a starting role at a very young age so he could accelerate the number of games he could play and the experience he could gain and at 21, I think he’s doing pretty darn well. He’s a good goalie.”
His teammates felt for Price.
“I was on the bench and I felt bad for him,” said forward Guillaume Latendresse. “Carey’s a competitor and I think it got to him.
“If that had happened to me, I’d have probably asked to get off the ice. It was as embarrassing for the rest of the players as it was for him.”
In goal was not the only area where things went wrong.
Last summer, the Canadiens acquired centre Robert Lang and winger Alex Tanguay to boost the attack after losing unwanted winger Michael Ryder and power-play point man Mark Streit as free agents.
Both Lang (severed achilles tendon) and Tanguay, who will go for shoulder surgery next week, ended the season on the injured list.
And without Streit, the power play that led the league in 2007-08 dropped to the bottom third of the 30-team league until veteran point man Mathieu Schneider was acquired ahead of the trade deadline. But even Schneider ended up sidelined with a bad shoulder.
The fatal injury was a bad knee suffered by top defenceman Andrei Markov with four games left in the regular season. Markov had been the team’s scoring leader and without him, their playoff chances were all-but nil.
The second-half collapse also had a report surface that the Kostitsyns and to a lesser extend defenceman Roman Hamrlik had hung out with a suspected gangster and several reports that some of the team’s younger players were partying too much in downtown clubs.
“All I know is some guys went out too much and it caught up to them,” said enforcer Georges Laraque.
The team was playing poorly, but had won five of seven games when Gainey opted to fire Carbonneau, but with all the injuries, the club didn’t get the boost a coaching change often brings.
Winger Alex Kovalev said dropping back into the group of teams battling for the final playoff spots also cost them.
“When you put yourself in a position where you have to win your last 10 games to make the playoffs, once you get there, we didn’t have enough rest to play,” he said. “We would have a good period, or a good period and a half, and then go down from there.”
Gainey’s main off-season job will be to make decisions on 10 unrestricted and four restricted free agents.
Those free to go on the open market are Kovalev, captain Saku Koivu, winger Alex Tanguay, centre Robert Lang, checking foreward Tom Kostopoulos and defencemen Mike Komisarek, Francis Bouillon, Mathieu Dandenault, Patrice Brisebois and Mathieu Schneider.