MONTREAL -- It was Charlotte Richard's first Montreal Canadiens game, and it's safe to say this courageous 11-year-old scaled the highest mountain during her maiden visit to an NHL arena.
Charlotte, from Quebec's Mauricie region, stood at the open door to the players bench when Canadiens goalie Carey Price skated to meet her Saturday, ushering her onto the rink to stand at his side during the national anthems.
Two and a half hours later, Charlotte was still beaming, Price by her side again in a seventh-floor Bell Centre lounge, a young girl living the dream of twice meeting her hero who had just shut out the Buffalo Sabres 3-0.
The special evening was one of several initiatives the Canadiens organization undertakes as part of the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer campaign. The annual event was in partnership with Leucan, which for more than four decades in Quebec has worked to provide multi-faceted support to cancer-stricken children and their families.
Video: BUF@MTL: Canadiens celebrate Hockey Fights Cancer
Some 70 members of Leucan and their families attended the game, which in almost a perfect script would be Price's highly successful return after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury. He made 36 saves for his 40th NHL shutout, his first since a 1-0 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 28.
The Leucan group was met at Bell Centre by Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, general manager Marc Bergevin, players' wives and girlfriends and Youppi!, the Canadiens mascot; the visitors all expressed delight that they were here on the night that Price soon would be making his return. From there, they fanned out into some 40 corporate suites, where they were hosted for the evening.
The group watched the warmup, when the Canadiens wore lavender jerseys that would be autographed and will be auctioned with proceeds going to Leucan.
Dania Kayali, 16, would read the starting lineup to the Canadiens players in the dressing room, the announcement shown on the videoboard over center ice, before accompanying Melanie Renaud to the ice for the latter's singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "O Canada."
The anthems were performed with six young cancer patients, between age 9 and 16, having been escorted onto the ice with the Canadiens' starting six: defensemen Jordie Benn and Joe Morrow, forwards Andrew Shaw, Phillip Danault and captain Max Pacioretty, and finally Price.
The goalie made the night a complete success. The Canadiens, who had been winless in five games (0-3-2), took advantage of the Sabres having arrived in Montreal late the night before after defeating the Edmonton Oilers at KeyBank Center on Friday. The home team scored a goal in each period, covering every situation: first Jeff Petry on the power play, then Alex Galchenyuk at even strength and finally Paul Byron, shorthanded.
It's been a tough recent haul for Price, sidelined for 10 games and working himself back into shape for what would be a near-perfect return to action.
What appeared to be a shutout-spoiling goal by Sabres forward Evander Kane with 33 seconds left in the game was disallowed, goaltender interference ruled by the officials upon video review.
"It didn't matter," Price said of the wait for the review to be completed. "I was just waiting for the next shot. Regardless of the outcome, I would have been looking toward the next one. …
"Nothing really sticks out to me," he said, no single shot telling him that he was in the zone, including one early that ricocheted off his mask. "I was just trying to stay focused on each individual shot."
Video: BUF@MTL: Price blanks Sabres with 36 saves in return
Several times, Price spoke of being prepared for the game, saying he felt no pregame butterflies despite not having played since a 6-3 road loss to the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 2.
"I spent a lot of time thinking about today and I'm just glad that it all turned out well," he said. "Injuries aren't a vacation. It took a lot to get ready for tonight and I've got to move to the next one."
Price was equally even-toned and economical with words when he spoke of having heard the rousing chants of "Car-ey! Car-ey!" that boomed through the arena even during warmup: "It was a nice homecoming."
It certainly was that for Canadiens fans, who understand that this team needs Price to be in brilliant form to provide any momentum in a push toward a Stanley Cup Playoff berth that for now is staring at discouraging odds.
The goalie took his leave from the dressing room and soon reappeared in the upstairs lounge with a handful of teammates and Youppi!, all swarmed by the Leucan kids.
The Canadiens victory meant a great deal to a team in dire need of them. And yet, you realized that they could have lost 10-0 and still been given a hero's welcome by a group of brave children whose fight is something far more important than a win or a loss on a hockey rink.