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.
Ramsay: Kreider didn't mean to crash into Price
For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.
Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay most recently was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.
Craig Ramsay believes goalies should be protected. He's not a fan of any player who maliciously runs into a goalie.
But Ramsay doesn't think New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider fits the mold of a player whose intentions are to injure goaltenders.
In breaking down the Rangers' 7-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, Ramsay told NHL.com that he doesn't think Kreider had any ill intentions when he went barreling feet first into goalie Carey Price early in the second period Saturday.
Price did not practice Sunday and his status for Game 2 on Monday is in doubt (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"I think it was an awkward play, one of those ones that's a fine line the referees walk and players walk, but I don't think [Kreider] did that on purpose," Ramsay said. "I just don't think he's that guy. I guess at the end of the day, you always wonder, but I just don't see it. I really think that it was a play he was trying to make. I can't say that that guy was trying to hurt someone.
"I've seen plays that are way worse than that because in my mind the player was attempting to bang the goalie, but I don't think this kid was trying to do that. If Price can't play it's an awful thing, but I don't think there was any malice to it."
The Canadiens indicated otherwise Sunday.
Montreal forward Brandon Prust said he thought Kreider hit Price "accidentally on purpose."
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, who called it an "accidental" play after the game Saturday, stuck with that word Sunday, but said he didn't think Kreider made any attempt to avoid the contact with Price.
"I'm sure the intention of the player is not to hit the goalie, but you have to try everything in your power to avoid contact," Therrien said. "It's tough to say if he tried everything to avoid that contact."
Ramsay said it wouldn't even be a talking point had the Canadiens showed up ready to play and to handle the Rangers' speed. Kreider was one of many New York players who victimized the Montreal defense corps with his speed.
"Now there is an incident that Montreal can rally behind, but they weren't ready to play," Ramsay said. "They beat the Boston Bruins, they beat the best team in hockey, and they were thinking it'd be fun to play in the [Stanley Cup] Final, but they forgot there is a team in the way."
Ramsay emphasized his point about the Rangers' speed by referencing Kreider's goal late in the second period, when he blew past Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin, took a pass from Rick Nash on the rush, and buried a shot past Price to give New York a 3-1 lead.
"The third goal was the game," Ramsay said. "That's when Kreider went right in and Emelin couldn't keep up with him. It almost looked like he kind of gave up. And his partner, [Andrei] Markov, he didn't even read that his buddy wasn't back there, so it was almost a 2-on-0."
Ramsay said he thinks the Canadiens are fast enough to handle the Rangers' speed going forward in the series, but only if they are mentally into the game. He didn't think they were even close to that Saturday.
"They were very proud of themselves for knocking off the Boston Bruins, and they didn't allow themselves to be ready to play the New York Rangers," Ramsay said.
He thinks that will change in Game 2. In fact, Ramsay said getting blown out in Game 1 might help the Canadiens refocus.
"Sometimes it's better to get your butt kicked badly instead of losing 2-1 and thinking, 'You know, we were really pretty good,'" Ramsay said. "You weren't pretty good. You were awful. You didn't come to play. You didn't compete. You were awful. Now they have no excuses. There's no saying, 'Oh, we were pretty good, and it was just bad luck or a bad break.'
"They didn't play well. They weren't ready to play. To me, you're often better to lose a game like that because you know what happened and you have to regroup and get back to work. I think they'll be refocused."
-- Dan Rosen
MORE RAMSAY ANALYSIS:
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.