The year was 1971, and the Montreal Canadiens
entrusted their playoff fate to a rookie goaltender named Ken Dryden. They went on to win the Stanley Cup. Thirty-seven years later, they're hoping history repeats itself.
This time, it's Carey Price
playing the role of the rookie goaltender -- and he's given every sign that he's up to the task. The 20-year-old carried the Canadiens to first place in the Eastern Conference; and his play got better as the season progressed. He was so good that GM Bob Gainey felt confident enough to deal starting goaltender Cristobal Huet
to Washington at the trade deadline in February.
Price answered critics who said he was too young to be a No. 1 goaltender by winning 12 of his 15 starts after the trade, posting a 2.12 goals-against average -- including an 0.57 GAA in his final three games -- and a .943 save percentage. So much for pressure.
Expectations are high in Montreal this spring, but Price has shown no signs of feeling the pressure.
Five up --
Five players who enter the playoffs on a roll:
Cristobal Huet --
Huet's play also picked up after the trade that sent him to Washington. He tied a team record and led the Capitals to the playoffs by winning his last nine decisions, including Saturday night's 3-1 clincher against Florida. Huet went 11-2-0 with a 1.63 GAA with the Caps.
Jaromir Jagr --
Jagr enters the playoffs on his best offensive roll of the season, having gotten hot just when the New York Rangers
need him. He had five goals and seven points in the final week of the season, and the Rangers will need him to continue that kind of production to beat New Jersey.
Martin Biron --
Biron is finally getting his first taste of postseason action -- and he earned it. The veteran goaltender closed the season with back-to-back shutouts as the Philadelphia Flyers
finished sixth after crashing to the Eastern Conference basement last season.
Nicklas Lidstrom --
Detroit's captain is in line to go home with yet another Norris Trophy after leading all defensemen in scoring and plus-minus -- despite missing nearly three weeks due to injury. Lidstrom finished his season with two goals in Sunday's win against Chicago and looks fresh and ready to go for the postseason.
Antoine Vermette --
Vermette's hat trick against Toronto helped the Senators hang on for a playoff berth. He had four goals in his last two games and finished with career highs of 24 goals and 53 points. With an injury-ravaged front line, Vermette will be counted on for more offense against Pittsburgh.
Five down --
Five players who'll need to step it up for their teams to succeed in the postseason.
Martin Gerber --
Gerber will get the call for Ottawa despite having only eight postseason appearances in which he's posted a 1-1 record and a dreadful 13.53 GAA. He and his team both stumbled down the stretch; and the Senators barely made the playoffs.
Alexander Radulov --
Career highs in goals (26) and points (58) can't obscure Radulov's poor finish. He had just two goals (both in the same game) and eight points in Nashville's final 19 games. For the Predators to have any chance against Detroit, he'll have to score the way he did before the slump.
Jonathan Cheechoo --
It's been a big drop for Cheechoo, who went from 56 goals in 2005-06 to 23 in 69 games this season. He scored Sunday after missing six games with a head injury, and San Jose needs him to step up against Calgary.
Brian Gionta --
Gionta is another player whose production has dropped off sharply, from 48 goals in 2005-06 to 25 last season and 22 this season. He scored just twice in New Jersey's final 10 games, and with the Devils starved for offense, they need him to produce.
Daniel Cleary --
Things were going great for Cleary, who was enjoying his best NHL season for the Detroit Red Wings
before breaking his jaw in early February. He missed 19 games and had only two assists in six games after returning to the lineup.
Injuries, news and notes —
The best injury-related news entering the playoffs is that Boston's Patrice Bergeron
might be able to play at some point. He's gotten the medical OK for full contact in practices. Bergeron has been out with a concussion since Oct. 27.
Minnesota defenseman Nick Schultz
will miss at least the first round after undergoing an appendectomy Monday night. … Ottawa is expected to be without right wing and captain Daniel Alfredsson
and No. 2 center Mike Fisher
for the first round against Pittsburgh. Alfredsson sustained knee, neck, and back injuries when he was hit hard Thursday night by Toronto's Mark Bell
. Fisher suffered a knee injury in the same game. … Detroit's Tomas Kopecky
will miss the playoffs due to a torn ACL and sprained MCL. He was injured Thursday and will need knee surgery.
Philadelphia could get defenseman Derian Hatcher
back after Game 1. He's been out since mid-March with a broken leg. They also hope to have center Daniel Briere
(knee) back for Game 1, and captain Jason Smith
is likely to play in the opener despite a sore
shoulder. … Boston defenseman Andrew Ference
is expected to be ready for the playoffs after missing seven games with a leg injury. Boston also hopes its top scorer, center Marc Savard
, will be ready to go. He's been out with a broken bone in his back. … Pittsburgh got veteran forward Gary Roberts
back Sunday after he missed 43 games with leg and ankle injuries. … Rangers center Blair Betts
played Sunday's season finale after missing seven games due to foot surgery. … Montreal hopes to have captain Saku Koivu
(broken foot) back for the playoffs, but there are no guarantees he'll be ready. The Canadiens should have defenseman Mike Komisarek
back for their series against Boston. He's missed the last 2½ weeks with a hip injury. … Detroit expects to have defenseman Brad Stuart
available for its playoff opener against Nashville on Thursday. He's been out since March 20 with a broken finger. The Wings also expect to have checking center Kris Draper
(groin) ready to go. Forward Tomas Holmstrom
(groin) played Sunday after missing a month. … Dallas was riddled by the flu bug in the final week of the season, but hopes centers Brad Richards
and Mike Ribeiro
, as well as forward Jere Lehtinen
, will be healthy when the Stars begin their series Thursday against Anaheim. … Minnesota defenseman Petteri Nummelin
played Sunday after missing more than a month due to an injured right thigh. … Anaheim forward Ryan Carter
, out since Feb. 20 with a broken wrist, also returned Sunday.
Still out —
Nashville center David Legwand
is still battling a foot injury. He's skating but isn't likely to be ready for the Preds' opener against Detroit. … Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov
went to Germany and underwent a procedure to fix a sports hernia. He won't be back to start the opening round; the Stars hope he might be able to play some time during the series. … Ottawa center Chris Kelly
, out since March 20 with a hairline fracture in his right leg, won't be ready for the start of the playoffs, though he may be able to return at some point in the series against Pittsburgh. … Detroit center Kirk Maltby
isn't likely to be ready for the start of the playoffs, but may be able to play at some point against Nashville.
The week ahead —
The NHL's 30 teams have been whittled to 16 for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Calgary vs. San Jose --
The only series to open with back-to-back games (Wednesday and Thursday at San Jose).
Boston vs. Montreal --
These old rivals start with three games in four nights, including Saturday night in Montreal followed by a game Sunday night in Boston.
Minnesota at Colorado --
The first two games are in Minnesota on Wednesday and Friday, but Games 3 and 4 are on consecutive nights in Denver (Monday and Tuesday). That could be a problem for players like the Avs' Peter Forsberg
, who've been battling injuries down the stretch.
Philadelphia vs. Washington --
The Flyers, with several injuries, don't open until Friday night, the latest opening of any of the eight series -- and there are no back-to-backs through the first week.
New York Rangers vs. New Jersey --
The teams are so close to each other that both can stay in their own beds if they wish; even if they don't, travel time is minimal and there are no back-to-backs, plus a two-day break between Games 3 and 4.
Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh –
There are no back-to-backs and two days off between Games 2 and 3 and 4 and 5. That's about as good as it gets in terms of scheduling at this time of year.