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Canadiens' Price optimistic despite injury, playoff loss

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Just as he had a year earlier, Carey Price met with the media Saturday to discuss how the Stanley Cup Playoffs came to an end for his Montreal Canadiens with him on the sidelines.

The situation was similar, but the circumstances were wildly different.

Price missed the Canadiens' fifth and final game of their first-round loss to the Ottawa Senators a year ago with a knee injury he sustained at the end of regulation time in Game 4.

That was a disappointing end to a disappointing lockout-shortened season for Price, who started strong but finished poorly, leaving some doubt as to his ability to plant himself among the elite goaltenders in the NHL. When he spoke to reporters afterwards he lamented the way he and his team ended the season, speaking with remorse and regret.

Fast forward a year and Price was again addressing reporters two days after the Canadiens were eliminated from the playoffs, this time in six games by the New York Rangers.

Again, Price was knocked out of the series by a knee injury. This, time, however, there was no remorse and no regret -- only optimism.

The biggest difference was that this time the Canadiens were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final, falling two wins short of the Stanley Cup Final, and Price was talking about a brilliant season that saw him win Olympic gold with Canada in Sochi and finish as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL.

But more than either of those things, Price spoke as a confident man, one who knew he had cleared a number of hurdles in his career and was eager to build on that success next season.

"This team played so well in front of me all season," Price said. "I was really fortunate to be selected and be able to represent my country [at the Olympics] and I had an awesome time. It was a great opportunity to do that. And the guys in this locker room during this playoff run, it was really fun to play with these guys. This is the tightest group we've ever had. It's sad to have it come to an end right now, but we have to look forward to next year."

Price was injured in Game 1 of the series against the Rangers in a collision with New York forward Chris Kreider early in the second period. Price remained in the game and finished the period, but did not come out to start the third with Montreal trailing the game 4-1 after the Rangers scored twice late in the second.

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said after the game he thought the collision with Kreider was an accident. But the next day he said Kreider did not make much of an effort to avoid hitting Price, and by the time he announced that Price would be out for the series the morning of Game 2 the play had become "reckless."

Price wouldn't go that far. But he did suggest the same thing Therrien did, that Kreider did nothing to avoid the contact that wound up ending his season.

"I don't think he did it intentionally, I don't think he tried to miss me either," Price said. "He was coming in with a lot of speed and he lost his footing. There's not much really to be said."

Price admitted that he knew immediately following the play that something was wrong, and that could be seen on the ice with Price clutching his right knee and writhing in pain for a few moments. But he quickly got up and convinced the trainer he was all right so he could stay in the game.

He clearly wasn't all right.

"It's the playoffs, man," Price explained with a laugh. "At the time, I was just like, 'Maybe it will go away.' But it didn't. It is what it is. Looking back on it, I wish I would have.

"Sometimes you get hurt and it's a stinger and it goes away. But after 10 minutes it didn't go away and I knew I was in trouble."

Price said he doesn't believe the injury was made worse by finishing the second period and that it won't require surgery. He wouldn't admit it was a knee injury, but when asked if he would need to wear a brace he said, "I don't think so."

He said the injury was "totally different" from the one he aggravated at the Olympics; that one kept him out for two weeks upon his return to the NHL. He was confident he would be fully recovered in time for next season, much like he recovered from last year's knee injury and excelled this season.

Had the Canadiens managed to beat the Rangers, Price is confident he would have been able to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

"I would have been pushing my luck to come back real quick," he said, "but obviously this time of year I would be trying to come back real soon."

Price has no need to rush now. The loss to the Rangers was still fresh in his mind Saturday, but unlike a year ago Price is content with the knowledge that he and his teammates only need to be a little bit better to reach their ultimate goal.

At the same time, having come so close makes the pain of defeat a bit sharper.

"It hurts more for sure. We had an opportunity, you could almost taste it. It definitely makes it more painful. You get so close to something, then it's gone," Price said. "It's disappointing, but you've got to be able to use that as motivation and know that you were that close and you need to find a way to get that little bit extra. I think going into the summer, if you have the right personality that should drive you to get a little bit better."

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