’s second career shutout couldn’t have come at a better time.
With the Eastern Conference lead at stake, the 20-year-old rookie stopped all 38 shots he faced on Tuesday night as the Montreal Canadiens
moved ahead of the New Jersey Devils
with a 4-0 victory at the Bell Centre.
The victory gave the Canadiens 87 points, one ahead of the Devils, although New Jersey does have a game in hand. The Ottawa Senators
are two points in back of the Habs after their 4-1 win over Boston on Tuesday night.
''That was really important, shutouts aside,'' said Price, who had his first shutout on Feb. 16 against the Philadelphia Flyers
. ''We definitely needed the two points and we're happy to be in first place, but we know it's going to be up and down for the rest of the year and we're going to be fighting really hard for first place every time we step on the ice.”
The Canadiens held a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals from Bryan Smolinski
and Saku Koivu
. Smolinski opened the scoring at 4:51 when he fooled Devils goalie Martin Brodeur
with a high shot. It was only Smolinski’s sixth goal of the season.
''I fooled myself,'' Smolinski said.
Brodeur, who made 29 saves in his 28th consecutive start, admitted it was a shot he should have stopped.
''It was just a bad read for me,'' Brodeur said. ''He was coming down the wing and he was looking the whole way to make a pass and he changed his mind and caught me leaning more than cheating and he caught the sweet spot. You've still got to make that shot, but it's one that I'd like to have back, for sure.''
Koivu put the Canadiens up by a pair when he completed a tic-tac-toe play with Sergei Kostitsyn with 1:32 remaining. It was his 15th goal of the season and third in four games.
''We were going in 3-on-2 and I just saw that Saku was open,'' Kostitsyn said.
But Price was the main reason Montreal had a lead through the first 20 minutes. Twenty of his 38 saves came in the opening period, and he made several key stops after Andrei Kostitsyn drew a four-minute penalty for high-sticking.
''It's impressive to watch him,'' Brodeur said of Price. ''We had a lot of good chances. What I like is the way he moves to get rebounds and get the puck. His future is very bright. He'll get tested in the next few years with the pressure here.''
Maxim Lapierre gave the Canadiens a 3-0 lead at 14:20 of the second period when he took a pretty feed from Sergei Kostitsyn and tapped it past Brodeur for his seventh goal of the season.
Through 40 minutes, the Devils held a 33-18 edge in shots on goal but hadn’t solved Price.
''He was great,'' Devils forward Zach Parise said. ''He made some unbelievable saves at big parts of the game, when it was 1-0. He was awesome, what else is there to say? He definitely came to play tonight.''
Montreal outshot New Jersey 15-5 in the third period and capped the scoring when Michael Ryder scored with 2:21 to play. It was the perfect way for the Canadiens to return from a four-game road trip.
The capacity crowd at the Bell Centre was chanting Price’s name almost from the opening faceoff.
''It's tough not to be ready for the next shot when you hear that,'' said Price, who has allowed only one goal on 70 shots in his last two games against Brodeur and the Devils. ''It's nice to get their support. ''It definitely gets you motivated when they're doing that.”
The Canadiens certainly appear to be motivated to win this incredibly-tight Eastern Conference. It’s a scenario that, regardless of what happens down the stretch, will only benefit Guy Carbonneau’s club in the long run.
''We have a young team,” the Canadiens’ coach said. “Every time you're under pressure, you gain experience. If we want to go far in the playoffs, not only this year but in future years, we have to go through these experiences.''
Material from wire services was used in this report.