BOSTON – Carey Price saw the puck much better Thursday night than he did a year ago from the Montreal bench.
The Canadiens goalie posted his third post-season shutout after starting just one of his team’s 19 playoff games last season, Brian Gionta scored twice and Montreal opened the series with a 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins.
“If we were able to write down on paper how we would have wanted to start the series this would have been it,” Price said.
The tall netminder stopped 31 shots, few of them challenging and most with no Bruins in the slot to block his view.
“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 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday night in Boston.
Price was a spectator 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.
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.”
He also was the losing goalie in all four games in the opening playoff round in 2009 when Boston swept Montreal, but he was sharp on Thursday.
“He’s a great player and will come up big when we need and that’s why everybody on the team believes in him,” Gionta said.
The Bruins may have lost home ice advantage in the series but it’s just one defeat.
“Who said it was frustrating?” Chara said. “I think we did a lot of good things. We just couldn’t score a goal.”
Notes: Montreal was 4-2 against the Bruins in the regular season with one win coming in overtime. … The Bruins’ poor power play continued in the post-season as they failed to score on three opportunities. They were ranked 20th in the regular season, scoring on 16.2 per cent of their opportunities. … The teams are facing each other for an NHL record 33rd time in the playoffs. The Canadiens have won 24 of the first 32 series.