BOSTON – In a series billed as a battle between two of the best goalies in the National Hockey League, Montreal's Carey Price won Round 1 against Tim Thomas.
Price refused to blink in Thursday's Game 1 at TD Garden, leading the Canadiens to a 2-0 victory against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
"I think (Price) is at the level now where he is one of the best in the world now," said Montreal forward Scott Gomez, who assisted on both goals. "Whether he likes it or not, he's set the bar that high. He's been waiting for this."
Price sure made a claim to being at the top of his profession, adding to a resume that already boasts a League-best 38 wins in the regular season and a top-10 save percentage of .923.
He stopped all 31 Boston shots, including 18 in a frenetic second period, to record his third playoff shutout. Amazingly, all three have come against the Bruins – the first two came in the 2008 postseason when, as a rookie, he announced his presence in a seven-game victory against Boston.
"He had a lot of great saves for them out there," said Boston forward Brad Marchand, who had a team-high six shots on Price. "He was a difference-maker for them. He's a great goalie, one of the best in the League."
Price showed that again Thursday night -- and despite getting just 20 shots of their own, his teammates gave him just enough support to walk away with a huge win on the road to start this best-of-7 series.
Brian Gionta scored the only goal Montreal would need just 2:44 into the game, beating Thomas after a turnover by Tomas Kaberle on a Montreal dump-in. Gomez, who grabbed the puck and fed a wide-open Gionta, got the only assist on a goal that Thomas had little chance to stop.
Gionta added a second goal, with 3:18 left, after Gomez again set him up following a Bruins turnover, this one by Lucic just inside the Boston blue line. Thomas had a better chance on this one, but the wrist shot ticked off his leg pad and found the far corner.
After Gionta's first goal, the Canadiens went into the defensive shell that served them so well in last year's run to the Eastern Conference Finals. They blocked shots and collapsed around Price, refusing to allow Boston to screen the goaltender or get to in-close rebounds.
"I think they were boxing us out of his net pretty good," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "I thought our chances were good, I thought our shots were good, but we didn't have enough traffic. So I don't think our shots were too much from the outside. We had some chances from the slot; it's just he could see the puck."
Boston knows that will have to change if they want to have success in Game 2.
But the Canadiens also know that keeping Boston to the outside and allowing Price, their All-Star goalie, to see everything is the recipe for playoff success.
They believed they proved it in Game 1 -- and they have no plans of deviating from that game plan.
Montreal had 19 blocked shots, including a couple of high-profile ones as they stepped in front of shot after shot from the Boston players, even when it caused bodily harm.
On the game's first shift, Andrei Kostitsyn stepped in front of a Zdeno Chara laser beam and had to head off for repairs. He did not return until midway through the second period -- right about the time gritty forward Travis Moen hobbled to the bench in clear distress after absorbing a Chara slapper somewhere in the upper-body region. Moen missed a few shifts, but returned before the period ended.
Defenseman, Brent Sopel, obtained at the trade deadline to be a defensive rock, had four blocks, including a denial of an Andrew Ference shot that seemed destined to get past Price.
"I could mention everyone on our hockey team," said Price. "From Andrei Kostitsyn to Brent Sopel. Everyone is willing to sacrifice the body for the team."
Sopel, who won a Cup with Chicago last spring, says blocking shots and taking the body are the little things that pay off in a run deep into the playoffs. He had four blocks Thursday night.
"It's playoff time, and that is what it is all about," Sopel said. "It's battling for one another and its sacrifice. I've always said, blocking shots hurts; but if it hits me, it's not going in the net. That's what you have to do. It's all about playing solid and sacrificing yourself."
Now, it becomes a question of whether the Canadiens can keep up that level of sacrifice for the rest of this series. They will begin proving it Saturday night when these teams meet here for Game 2 – and they know they will face a far more determined Boston team when the puck drops Saturday night.
"It's pretty obvious, I think," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "There's no secret here. I just mentioned a second ago, (Price) saw a lot of pucks tonight, and that can't happen.
"If you're going to score goals on that goaltender, you need to take away his vision and we didn't do a good enough job of that. We were all around the net, but we weren't in front. You know, that's something that has to get better."
1 - 0 MTL
2 - 0 MTL