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Price ramps up preparation for qualifiers ahead of Canadiens camp

Goalie skating at WHL rink, plans to return to Montreal soon

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Carey Price is in Washington state, three time zones west of Montreal. But the goalie said he's making plans to return east, with the Montreal Canadiens expected to soon begin training in earnest for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Price remains with his wife, Angela, their two children -- with a third on the way -- and her family in Kennewick, where Price played four seasons with Tri-City of the Western Hockey League. He said he's recently had access to Tri-City's gym and practice rink and has skated a little without facing shooters.

"I don't know of any NHL players in this area," Price said Thursday. "I'm kind of in isolation here. This was the best possible scenario we had a few months ago, with my wife's family and having a facility to train at, but as of right now I don't have a whole lot of opportunities to wrangle in some shooters."


[RELATED: 5 questions for Canadiens in Stanley Cup Qualifiers]


The NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. In the early days of the pandemic, Price locked down almost completely with his family and in-laws, with Washington hit hard by the coronavirus.

"We didn't do a whole lot, didn't get out much aside from the occasional walk out of doors," Price said. "It was pretty relaxing times. Once I started to come into the training facility, things started to ramp up and I started to feel a little bit more like an athlete again."

A handful of Canadiens players have been skating in Brossard, Quebec, since Phase 2 of the NHL Return to Play Plan began June 8. Training camps are scheduled to open July 10 in Phase 3, provided medical and safety conditions allow and the NHL and the NHL Players' Association reach an agreement on resuming play, so he is starting to make plans to head back to Montreal. But he said he has many questions about the Return to Play Plan, which calls for the season to resume with 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup.

The tournament will begin with the qualifiers, where the Canadiens (31-31-9, .500 points percentage), the No. 12 seed in the Eastern Conference, will face the No. 5 seed Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, .623) in one of eight best-of-5 series. The winners will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dates and locations of the two hub cities -- one for the 12 participating teams from the East, one for the 12 Western Conference teams -- have not been announced.

"There's a lot going on, a lot of things trying to get solved," Price said. "I'd like to come back soon and start preparing as best I can for a possible return to play. It's just figuring out systems and conditioning and all the variables that you start with at the start of the season. Now you're mixing it in with playoffs and you're playing the same team possibly five times here off the get-go. It's going to be interesting."

Video: MTL@OTT: Price makes 30 stops in Canadiens' 3-0 win

Price laughed when reminded of stories that surfaced a month ago suggesting the Penguins wanted no part of Price in a short series (the remaining series will be best-of-7).

"It's motivating, without a doubt," said Price, who in 2014-15 was voted the Hart Trophy winner as NHL most valuable player and the Vezina Trophy winner as its best goalie. "It's a great opportunity, if we get to play, for me to come into a playoff scenario well-rested. I'm just trying to prepare myself as well as possible for any situation."

He said a goalie stealing a series is "always plausible. There's no question that great goaltending wins you championships. But no question, great team play wins championships, so it's definitely both of those."

Having played 60 playoff games, five fewer than Montreal defenseman Shea Weber, Price likely will be a huge factor in the series against Pittsburgh. The Penguins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017, have a massive edge in playoff experience, their combined 1,208 games played ranking first among the 24 remaining teams. The Canadiens, at 400 games, have the third fewest.

"I'm sure most of my teammates have played playoff hockey in some form or another," Price said. "You don't get to the NHL very often without having won something at some level. I think a lot of our players can draw off those experiences and look to players like me, Shea and [forward Brendan Gallagher, with 40 playoff games] for leadership in those types of intense situations."

Still, Price said, defeating the Penguins is "an enormous challenge. Winning a Stanley Cup is an enormous challenge. I don't think that anybody knows this any better than the Pittsburgh Penguins. I have no doubt that me and the rest of my teammates are looking forward to a challenge.

"You always see at the start of every season how it's kind of chaos, so I feel that returning right back into a playoff format off the get-go, it's going to be chaotic. Our preparation over the next month for a possible return will be paramount. It's an old adage, anything can happen. It's a tried-and-true answer.

"I know we're a pretty underrated team, we're a very streaky team. We've proven that we can get really hot, and that's what it's all about in the playoffs."

For now, Price said, there's been no studying the Penguins' tendencies or cramming on the Pittsburgh shooters he'll face.

"I've watched our games from the season, and when we return for training camp we're still going to have three weeks of opportunity to pick through and sift through everything," he said. "Right now, I'm just trying to focus on time with my kids and try to prepare my body as well as I can for a possible return to play."

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