BOSTON – Carey Price has already led Canada to an Olympic gold medal this year.
Now he has the nation’s last remaining NHL playoff team a step closer to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Montreal goalie made 29 saves in a Game 7 victory over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night, helping the Canadiens advance to the Eastern Conference finals. They will face the New York Rangers when the series opens on Saturday in Montreal.
“He’s unbelievable,” Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov said after Price followed up a Game 6 shutout by allowing just one goal in the clincher. “There’s not much to explain; he’s the best, you know.
Dale Weise, Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere scored for the Canadiens, who needed a win in Game 6 on Monday night to force the series to a seventh game. They beat Boston 4-0, then came to the TD Garden and Price dominated the Bruins again.
It’s just the second time since winning their NHL-best 24th Stanley Cup title in 1993 that the Canadiens have reached the third round of the playoffs.
“I am ecstatic,” said Price, who was backing up Jaroslav Halak in 2010, the last time Montreal reached the conference finals. “But at the same time you have to realize that it’s not over. We are only halfway there.”
The Canadiens scored just 2:18 into the game to quiet the Boston crowd and then made it 2-0 midway through the second period. Jarome Iginla made it 2-1 at the end of the second, and between periods Price decided to address his team.
“He was more confident than I have ever seen him before,” Pacioretty said. “He spoke up and said something like ‘Only live in the moment, don’t worry about the past.’ … I’m speechless at how he is playing.”
Montreal made it 3-1 with about 3 minutes left when Briere chipped in a power-play goal off Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara’s skate.
“We just beat the best team in the league,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. “Down 3-2 and (we) showed a lot of character, a lot of passion. To win a series in Boston, it is a tough place for people to come and play here.”
Tuukka Rask made 15 saves for the Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and returned to the finals last year. Boston finished with the best record in the regular season this year, but its road stopped against the Original Six rival in another classic playoff series.
Rask said it was especially difficult to follow up a successful regular season with a playoff dud.
“Especially when you think you have a great team,” he said. “We had a decent first series but this just shows that winning the regular season doesn’t mean anything.”
In front of boisterous crowds on both sides of the border, the Canadiens won the 34th playoff series between the two clubs—the ninth that went the seven-game distance. But after finishing the regular season with an NHL-best 117 points, home-ice advantage meant little to the Bruins.
NOTES: The teams last played a Game 7 in the first round in 2011, when the Bruins won in overtime en route to the Stanley Cup title. … The team that scored the first goal won every game. … Boston coach Claude Julien tied Mike Keenan with 10 Game 7s, the most in NHL history. … Chara’s 11 Game 7s are the most of any active player. … Iginla’s goal snapped Price’s shutout streak of 103:46.