MONTREAL – Rookie goaltender Carey Price says he feels rested and ready to play the most important game of his young NHL career.
A loss by his Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET) to Philadelphia, which leads their best-of-seven playoff series 3-1, would send the Canadiens packing for the summer and put the Flyers into the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 2000.
A struggling Price was replaced in goal for Game 4 on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, a 4-2 Flyers win, after having been yanked for the third period of a 3-2 loss in Game 3 in favour of back-up Jaroslav Halak.
After winning the series opener in overtime, the top-seeded Canadiens have matched their season high by losing three straight times to the sixth-seeded Flyers.
“I feel a lot better,” Price said Friday after a late-afternoon practice. “Having a couple of good days of practice really makes a big difference.
“I worked hard and it did a lot of good. I was just getting worn out a little. I played a lot of games in a row (13). It was good to be able to get a mental break. It was a pause more than a setback. Every once in a while you need a break and the last game was a good time.”
The entire team was given the day off on Thursday and Price spent his free time taking in a movie (88 Minutes) and playing arcade games with some teammates.
They all hope the break is what was needed to recharge the batteries for the daunting task ahead – trying to beat the Flyers three times in a four-night span.
In 2004, the Canadiens became one of only 20 teams in NHL history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series (against Boston), but since the 2004-05 lockout season, teams in that situation are 0-20.
They have outshot the Flyers and held territorial advantage in every game, but have fallen behind by at least 2-0 in each game and have been able to come back against Martin Biron’s solid play in the Philadelphia net.
So they are pulling out all the stops for the first do-or-die game of the series, including putting their gifted 20-year-old back in the net.
“He deserves a second shot,” said coach Guy Carbonneau. “I think in the last few days he had time to cool down and refocus and get ready for another long stretch.”
Price will use a new glove and a new blocker for the game, while Carbonneau said he will wear his lucky multi-coloured tie, with which he has a 3-0 record in key games behind the bench, to try to change the team’s luck.
“It was a tough time, you always want to play, but you have to respect the coaches’ decision,” Price said of sitting out. “I’m just looking forward to getting back in there.
“Hopefully, we can pull off a winning streak.”
The Canadiens will also go back to the top two lines they used for most of the season – Tomas Plekanec between Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn and Saku Koivu centring Sergei Kostitsyn and Christopher Higgins. Kovalev and Sergei Kostitsyn switched lines beginning with Game 7 of the first round against Boston.
As well, the third line of Bryan Smolinski with Tom Kostopoulos and Steve Begin has been reunited after Begin was moved onto the fourth trio for a short spell.
“Those lines were good all season,” said Carbonneau. “Alex and Saku playing together worked at the start, but the Flyers adjusted and now we’ll go back to our usual lines.
“Playing at home for two of the next three games, that should work to our advantage.”
What they seek is to score the first goal and play with a lead for the first time in the series.
“When you don’t have the lead, you have to force the play a little more,” Carbonneau added. “You spend a bit more energy and sometimes you’ve got to overplay some players.
“We’ve been a good team when we’ve been able to play four lines pretty equally and I think that’s what we’ll look for. That’s what we’ve been trying to create in the last four games, but we have to do it early.”
The task for the Canadiens is to solve Biron and stop Flyers winger R.J. Umberger, who has six goals in the series.
Carbonneau said he’s never been a “big orator,” but speeches likely won’t be necessary. Both teams know what’s on the line.
A loss would end the season for a Canadiens team that had its legion of fans in a frenzy after finishing first in the conference and ousting Boston in the opening round despite a scare that saw them blow a 3-1 series lead, but win Game 7 with a 5-0 shutout by Price.
The Flyers also blew a 3-1 lead in the first round and needed Joffrey Lupul’s Game 7 overtime goal to get past Washington. They surely don’t want to let another team get up off the mat.
“We’ve responded well to these situations all season and this is another one,” Carbonneau said. “This is a game with no tomorrow. We need to act, not talk.”