MONTREAL - With the playoffs set to begin, Hamilton Bulldogs coach Don Lever received a few presents from Bob Gainey and the Canadiens, and that could be bad news for the rest of the AHL.
In addition to welcoming back recent farm team graduates Andrei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre, Lever also received a boost between the pipes with the arrival of Carey Price.
"Having those guys come in has sure given the team a lift," said Lever. "Lapierre has brought a lot of energy as expected. He's the type of player who attacks every shift like it's going to be his last. And Price has come as advertised."
The outlook isn't as rosy for Kostitsyn, who has yet to suit up for 'Dogs after arriving in Hamilton with a nagging groin problem.
"We'd love to get Andrei out there in time for the playoffs, but his status remains up in the air," said Lever. "He's back on the bike and he'll push it little harder in the coming days and we'll see how it responds."
Fellow Belarussian Mikhail Grabovski is also still sidelined with a hand injury but he should be back early in the Bulldogs' opening round series with the Rochester Americans.
If Price's first two starts are any indication, Lever may be able to live without his ailing snipers.
"The first thing Carey told he told me when he got here was how nervous he was, but it sure didn't show out on the ice," said Lever, of the 19-year-old goaltending prodigy. "Carey gave us two solid starts in some high-pressure games and he made it look easy.
"His maturity level and poise are what really struck me at first and he can sure handle the puck," added Lever, of the Habs' top pick, fifth overall, at the 2005 NHL Draft. "He's been working hard with Rollie [Melanson] and he's had no trouble adapting to the pro game."
As for how the AHL is adapting to Price, that's another story.
"Even when teams have tried to send traffic his way, it hasn't worked," said Lever of Price, who stands at a towering 6-foot-3. "Guys crash the net and Carey can still see right over them."
Getting the chance to test-drive Price in preparation for the 2007-08 season is nothing new to Lever or the Canadiens. Kyle Chipchura wrapped up his 2005-06 season in Hamilton a year ago before playing for the Bulldogs on a full-time basis this year.
"It's nice for me to get to know them, but it's especially worthwhile for the players," explained Lever, now in his second season behind the Bulldogs' bench. "This has given Carey the chance to see what the pro life is all about and it ensures a smooth transition."
As thrilled as he is to have Price in the mix for his club's playoff run, the veteran coach refused to tip his hand as to whether Price or Yann Danis would be in the Bulldogs' crease Thursday night in Rochester.
"Everyone's been asking me about that one," admitted Lever. "You'll just have to wait until Thursday to find out."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com