BROSSARD, Quebec - No matter how far the Montreal Canadiens fall out of the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, injured goaltender Carey Price plans to play this season if he can get healthy enough for that to happen.
And he's confident he will.
"Given the position that we're in, it doesn't change anything," Price said Thursday at the Canadiens training facility. "I love playing hockey and I want to get out there as quickly as possible. I want to be out there playing the game that I love. It's not a matter of protecting me; I'm going to play regardless. I'd rather do it sooner than later.
"I'm pretty confident. I'm not going to make any timelines or anything like that, but as far as the way things are progressing it's looking pretty good."
Price was speaking publicly for the first time since Dec. 15, when he was named the winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's athlete of the year. This time, Price was reacting to his selection on the initial 16-man roster of Team Canada for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey a day earlier.
Though Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong clearly said he will be the starter if he's healthy, Price welcomes the competition he will get for the Canadian crease from Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks.
"We want to win," Price said. "Whether I'm playing, whether Braden's playing, whether Corey's playing, it doesn't matter. We want to win that tournament. That's the only thing that matters. I want to play, obviously, but I really want to win as well. I hope I get the opportunity, but we have three guys that know how to play goal pretty well."
Price hasn't played once between his two public appearances 11 weeks apart, and as the Canadiens fell further and further down the standings in his absence public sentiment in Montreal began to grow that perhaps Price shouldn't return this season at all.
He has no plans of doing that, but it remains possible his first competitive hockey since he was injured Nov. 25 might come at the World Cup in September.
Price said he would not go to the IIHF World Championships in May if the Canadiens miss the playoffs because he and his wife Angela are expecting their first child April 29.
"I'm going to be a new dad, so I think that's probably going to wind up being [the] priority," he said.
Though Price did speak to the media in December, he did not discuss the lower-body injury that has kept him out of the Canadiens lineup for three months.
He did Wednesday, clarifying several things that have been speculated for as long as he's been injured.
Price was first injured Oct. 29 against the Edmonton Oilers, missed nine games and returned Nov. 20 on the road against the New York Islanders. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said at the time that Price would let them know when he felt ready to return, but seeing him play after one practice with the Canadiens caught many by surprise.
The Canadiens had lost for the third time in four games one night earlier at home to the Arizona Coyotes, but Price's return helped them sweep a home-and-home series with the Islanders. In his next start at the New York Rangers, Price was injured again while attempting to move around in his crease.
The immediate assumption was that Price returned too soon, particularly when Therrien said he re-aggravated his previous injury.
Price said not only that he did not return too soon, but the current injury is in fact different from the one that previously cost him nine games.
"I came back quickly, but I don't think me getting injured the second time necessarily has anything to do with my first injury," Price said. "If you look at the tape that could have happened to me if I was 100 percent healthy. So whether they're connected, I don't know."
Price did not reveal what the lower-body injury is, but it has been widely speculated that he should have opted for surgery instead. Price says that was never an option.
"The nature of my position, it was just bad for goaltenders. It's the only way to explain it," he said. "It's never been an option to get surgery, so that's that. Time was going to be the only option to let it heal fully, and obviously it's taken longer than expected."
The original timeline given by the Canadiens was a minimum of six weeks from when he was injured Nov. 25. That was 14 weeks ago.
"Timelines are given at the start of an injury, and that's based on previous injuries," Price said. "I don't think [this injury]'s been diagnosed within this organization before. Maybe they haven't seen that before. The nature of my position just made it a really difficult process to make it happen quickly."
The Canadiens were 17-4-2 when Price was injured. They are 13-24-4 since and general manager Marc Bergevin bluntly said Price's injury is the reason for the Canadiens' dramatic slide, something Price himself didn't necessarily disagree with.
"It's part of the equation," he said. "I like to think I'm a big part of the team's success over the last couple of seasons. I feel like my presence is best felt on the ice competing. When you take that, I feel like the guys have a lot of confidence when I'm back there with them. But it's a piece of the puzzle."
Price has been skating with his goaltending equipment since last Friday and made another important step in his return Thursday when he took shots from injured teammate David Desharnais for the first time.
He is inching closer to the Canadiens crease, but unlike his last return to action, there is little urgency now for Price to rush back. Montreal entered its game Thursday at the Los Angeles Kings six points out of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps the Canadiens can make Price's potential return more relevant by reeling off a few wins, but regardless of what they do, Price won't return until he is ready, no matter the level of urgency.