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Canadiens' Price uncertain for Game 2 vs. Rangers

Sunday, 05.18.2014 / 5:35 PM
Arpon Basu  - Managing Editor LNH.com

BROSSARD, Quebec -- On the southeast corner of Bell Centre stands a photo of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price that is six or seven stories high.

He is larger than life here. And a cornerstone. And possibly injured.

One game into the Eastern Conference Final, Price's health has become the biggest story in the series. And how he might have been injured, if indeed he is, ranks a close second.

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien would not confirm Sunday that Price will play in Game 2 of the series against the New York Rangers on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 1-0.

Price skated for approximately five minutes with goaltender coach Stephane Waite an hour prior to practice Sunday, working on his lateral movement before leaving the ice and missing the Canadiens' optional skate.

"Carey had a therapy day," Therrien said. "We'll see if he can play the game [Monday]."

When asked later if he had any doubt about Price's ability to play, Therrien said it's too early to give a definitive answer.

"We'll see [Monday]," he said. "I can't tell you that right now."

Price did not start the third period of the Canadiens' 7-2 loss in Game 1 of the series on Saturday.

Price appeared to injure his right leg at 3:15 of the second period in a collision with Rangers forward Chris Kreider. Kreider was charging toward the net with great speed when he fell in front of Price and slammed into his right leg skates first.

Price remained down for a few moments clutching at his right knee, but quickly got up and skated. He played the remainder of the period, but Therrien said after the game he decided not to use him in the third period to protect him because the Canadiens were not sharp.

Price missed eight games coming out of the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics due to a lower-body injury he aggravated while representing Canada and winning the gold medal in Russia. The team was very careful with his rehabilitation from the injury in order to make sure he would be prepared for the grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Prior to the Canadiens' morning skate for their first game back from the break against the Detroit Red Wings, Price held a similarly brief skate alone with Waite. He did not play for the next two weeks.

"He's our best player," Canadiens backup goaltender Peter Budaj said. "He works hard, he's a competitor, he's a leader.

"I'm sure we wouldn't be here without him. Hopefully he feels good and he's ready to go."

Though Therrien said after the game that he felt it was an accident, he had a slightly different view of the play Sunday.

"I reviewed the incident," he said. "Obviously it was an accidental contact. But let's put it this way, he didn't make much effort to avoid the contact."

Former Ranger Brandon Prust went after Kreider while killing a penalty in the third period of Game 1, putting his stick between Kreider's legs, cross-checking him in front of the net and slashing him in the back of the leg, finally getting called for a penalty on the last infraction.

Prust was also assessed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 10-minute misconduct on the play.

A day later, Prust's view of the play hadn't changed from how he felt during the game.

"He went skates-first right into his leg," Prust said. "We know how to slide, we know how to fall. We're in the NHL and you're taught how to fall when you're five years old. I don't think he's a dirty player, but he did nothing to slow up or avoid him."

Prust brought up a play from the Rangers' second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins to show that this is not the first time Kreider has been in this situation. In Game 6 of that series, Kreider was driving hard to the net when he was pushed from behind by Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, forcing him to slouch forward a bit. Just as Kreider made contact with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury he went upright, bringing his arm into Fleury's head and then following through.

Kreider received a goaltender interference penalty and Fleury was not injured on the play.

"Whatever he says, it's accidental, but it's accidentally on purpose," Prust said. "He did nothing to really avoid [it]. I mean in the NHL we know how to fall, we know how to not put our skates first when we fall. He did the same thing against Fleury in the last series. He's not doing anything to avoid it. Whether it's not totally intentional, he doesn't do anything to lighten it up."

A few members of the Rangers spoke to the media Sunday after attending the funeral of France St. Louis, the mother of Martin St. Louis who passed away at the age of 63 on May 8.

None were too enthusiastic to entertain accusations from the Canadiens toward Kreider, but all pointed to the situation in the game to show Kreider's focus was solely on trying to score a goal to increase his team's lead in the game.

"Today I'm definitely not in the mood to pick a fight with anybody," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Everybody's entitled to their opinion. I tend to believe that in a 2-0 game, guy going on a breakaway, he's trying to score."

Not only was Vigneault not buying Montreal's accusations, he wasn't even buying the possibility that Price is injured.

"I'm sure Price is going to be there," Vigneault said. "We're getting ready for him."

"As far as I know, nobody said he's injured," Vigneault later added in French. "So he should be there."

If he isn't, the spotlight will be thrust on Budaj for a second postseason in a row. Last year, Price was injured at the end of Game 4 of the Canadiens' first-round series against the Ottawa Senators, forcing Budaj to start the overtime period with Montreal down 2-1 in the series.

Budaj allowed the second shot he faced past him to lose Game 4, then allowed six goals on 29 shots in a 6-1 loss in Game 5, ending the Canadiens' postseason. On Saturday, Budaj allowed a goal on the first shot he faced and gave up two more goals on the next seven shots in the third period.

That makes for a .744 save percentage in parts of three playoff games in his Canadiens career.

"It's the third round and that was the first round," Budaj said Sunday. "That's one thing, and the other thing is [Price] skated before us. A few guys didn't skate today, so we'll see. I don't know if I'm playing or not, but I'm certainly ready whenever I get a chance to play. Hopefully [Price] is alright. He skated before, so we'll see how he feels."

There's an entire city, province, and perhaps even an entire country waiting to see how Price feels Monday.

The fate of the Canadiens' playoff run might be resting on it.

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