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Habs keeping starter quiet

by Mike G. Morreale

Habs coach Guy Carbonneau has not announced if Carey Price will be in goal for the Montreal Canadiens tonight. Price highlight video
PHILADELPHIA - Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau remained non-committal in announcing his starting goalie for tonight’s Game 4 ( 7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS) of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wachovia Center.

It would be a shock, however, if rookie sensation Carey Price wasn’t manning the cage.

Carbonneau replaced his 20-year-old starter with rookie backup Jaroslav Halak in the third period of his team’s 3-2 loss in Game 3 on Monday after Price yielded three goals on 12 shots over two periods. Carbonneau informed the media this morning that only he, his coaches and both goalies know who will play tonight.

“If I would have announced it (Tuesday or this morning), there would have been about 600 articles in the paper saying that I was right or wrong,’’ Carbonneau said. “Who wants to read about this kid being the wrong guy or how I should have done this or that. My focus right now is on the team and getting a win.

“Sometimes rest is good for a goalie but, that said, sometimes it’s better to just to get back into the thick of things. I’ve spoken to (goalie coach) Roland Melanson and a few other guys in the organization and have made my decision. I feel very strongly about it and everyone else will know my decision tonight. In the end, it’s my decision so I’ll be the one to get blamed if something goes wrong.’’

The loss to the Flyers on Monday marked the second time in the playoffs that Price suffered consecutive losses this postseason. Against the Boston Bruins in the opening round, Price allowed five goals apiece in back-to-back setbacks in Games 5 and 6. The native of Vancouver, who is 5-5 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 10 playoff games, rebounded with his finest performance this postseason in a 5-0, 25-save performance in Game 7.

Halak, who needed to make just two third-period saves in relief of Price in Game 3, was recalled from Hamilton of the American Hockey League at the Feb. 26 trade deadline to back up Price when Montreal traded Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals. Unlike Price, who uses a predominately butterfly style, Halak is prone to utilize a combination of both stand-up and butterfly.

It would seem a bit premature for Carbonneau to give up on Price with his team trailing in the series, 2-1, particularly when the youngster’s greatest asset this season has been his ability to shake off adversity with style. Since being given the reigns as full-time starter since the trade of Huet, Price hadn’t lost consecutive games prior to these playoffs. Against the Flyers, however, Price has looked simply mediocre, sporting a 3.79 GAA and .853 save percentage in three appearances.

“This is the NHL playoffs,’’ Price said. “I’m 20-years-old and finding out the hard way that the NHL playoffs aren’t easy. It’s better to find out now than to find out when I’m 30.’’
Canadiens winger Guillaume Latendresse was asked his opinion on the goaltending situation.

“We had three goalies working out yesterday, as we did today, so I think Guy wants to make sure everybody is ready,’’ Latendresse said. “We don’t really mind who is in the net tonight. We know we have great goalies here so whoever is in the net, we’ll be ready and play the same game.’’

Canadiens defenseman Patrice Brisebois, who should return to the lineup after sitting out with a leg injury in Game 3, agreed with Latendresse.

“Naming the starting goalie is certainly a big deal in Montreal, but this is Carbo’s decision and I stand by what he’s doing because it takes the pressure off the goalies,’’ Brisebois said. “They are two young goalies who are trying to do the best that they can. As I’ve said before, you win together and lose together. We will do everything to protect the goalies and if that means to block more shots, we’ll do it; whatever it takes to win in our zone and their zone. Each time we’ve had our backs to the wall, we’ve responded well this season and I expect the same thing will happen tonight.’’

Brisebois, who has a goal and four assists in eight playoff games, feels a strong start will certainly go a long way in boosting team morale. The Flyers opened Games 1 and 2 with a 2-0 lead before taking a 3-0 cushion in Game 3.

“The key tonight is getting a good start,’’ Brisebois said. “Getting that first goal would be nice and it would be fun to play with the lead for once. A lot of things can happen and, if they score first, so be it. We just have to stick with the game plan and remain focused for 60 minutes or longer.’’

Brisebois was also quick to note one other key factor.

“When we have a chance to put the puck in the net, we have to bear down and score those goals,’’ he said.

“(Martin) Biron has been excellent since Day 1,’’ said Carbonneau of the Flyers goalie. “So we just need to find a way to get pucks behind him early in the game and put that pressure back on them.’’

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