|Carey Price answered the bell for the first time in his playoff career with a sterling Game 7 performance, turning aside all 25 Bruins shots as the Canadiens advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
Montreal's Journey to the Cup
Was this really happening? Were their beloved Montreal Canadiens, the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the team that is supposed to break Canada’s 15-year Stanley Cup drought, going to blow a 3-1 series lead against the rival Boston Bruins?
Not tonight, said rookie goalie Carey Price.
The same fans who were ready to spew venom at the 20-year-old goaltender just two nights earlier after he was beaten for four third-period goals in Game 6 -- just as he’d been in Game 5 -- spent the hours after a 5-0 win in Game 7 raising their glasses to the new toast of the city.
Price answered the bell for the first time in his playoff career with a sterling Game 7 performance, turning aside all 25 Bruins’ shots as the Canadiens advanced to the second round of the playoffs. It’s Montreal’s first series victory since 2004.
“It was a rough couple of games, and we knew it just wasn’t going our way,” Price said following his second shutout of the first-round series. “I knew it was going to turn around eventually, and (Monday night) it did.”
At first it didn’t appear that Montreal would have much trouble getting past the eighth-seeded Bruins. The Canadiens won the first two games at home — 4-1 in Game 1 and 3-2 in overtime, thanks to the winner from Alex Kovalev, in Game 2.
The series shifted to Boston with Montreal owning a 13-game winning streak against the Bruins.
“This was definitely one of their best games, but it’s going to be even harder to play against them in their home building,” Kovalev said following Game 2.
He was right. Boston won Game 3 in overtime, 2-1, getting the winner from Marc Savard 9:25 into the extra session. Game 4 was just as tight, but Price stopped all 27 shots and Patrice Brisebois’ goal late in the second period stood up for a 1-0 victory.
Now up three games to one with the series shifting back to the Bell Centre, Montreal fans were already thinking about the team’s opponent in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Boston had other ideas. The Bruins turned Game 5 from a tight checking 1-1 game after two periods into a blowout with four goals on 10 shots in the third. The result was a 5-1 victory and many questions about how the Habs rookie goalie would react in Game 6.
Once again, the Canadiens couldn’t close out the Bruins in Boston for Game 6. Price again was beaten for four third-period goals as the Bruins skated off with a 5-4 victory.
The series returned to the Bell Centre, where the Habs and their rookie goalie shouldered the pressure of the entire province in Game 7.
“You want to sweep a series in four games, but this is why there’s a Game 7,” Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau told reporters on the eve of the deciding game. “This is why you play 82 games -- to get the home advantage for Game 7.”
Carbonneau had a little extra something up his sleeve, too. In a subtle move he shifted Kovalev and rookie forward Sergei Kostitsyn. Kovalev, who had just four points in the first six games, moved to a line with Saku Koivu and Christopher Higgins. Kostitsyn, who also had four points in the series to date, moved to the top line to play with his brother, Andrei, and center Tomas Plekanec.
Carbonneau felt the need to balance his offense, and it worked.
Kovalev assisted on Montreal’s first two goals, and Sergei Kostitsyn scored the third goal and assisted on the fifth. Andrei Kostitsyn also scored twice and Mark Streit and Mike Komisarek netted their first goals of the playoffs as the Habs rolled to a 5-0 victory.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Kovalev said of the Bruins. “They battled back and even down 3-1 they were able to regroup and get a couple of wins, but the mistakes we made, we didn’t compete like we did (Monday). If we had played the way we played (Monday night) I think we could have done it earlier.”
Moving forward, a seven-game series in Round 1 may wind up being the best thing to ever happen to Price and the Canadiens because now GM Bob Gainey, coach Carbonneau, all the Canadiens and the entire province know exactly what they have in this 20-year-old phenom.
Like a savvy vet, Price can rebound in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, too.