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Price a winner in NHL debut

by Brian Compton
By earning his first NHL victory in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, Carey Price equaled a feat accomplished by both Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.
It couldn’t have been easy for Carey Price to have to face the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal in his National Hockey League debut.

But the Montreal Canadiens’ rookie netminder sure made it look that way.

Twenty-two years to the night that Patrick Roy played in his first NHL game – in the same building – Price stopped 26 shots as the Canadiens edged the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, at Mellon Arena on Wednesday night.

The 20-year-old Price, who led Canada to the World Junior Championship last winter, then backstopped the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup in the spring after turning pro, was selected four spots behind Crosby at the 2005 Draft.

The rookie looked like a wily NHL veteran, with the type of calmness one would see from the likes of a Martin Brodeur or Dominik Hasek. Despite going up against one of the NHL’s most potent attacks, Price held his ground time and time again to help the Canadiens improve to 2-0-1 on the season.

Price was tested early and often, and impressively denied Crosby more than once during a barrage from point-blank range midway through the game. Price played with the exact type of poise that Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau was expecting.

“If you look at the way he played in the past, like in the World Juniors, he played really well and in Hamilton ... when it was time to close a series, he was there and played well,” Carbonneau said. “Tonight was one of those games.”

Price came up huge late in the game, when he denied Crosby and Gary Roberts on back-to-back chances to keep the Canadiens in the lead. In the end, Price would win his NHL debut, just like Roy.

In Pittsburgh, no less.

“I read it in the game notes,” said Price. “It’s kind of a coincidence. It’s kind of weird that’s how that worked out.”

Ryan Whitney gave the Penguins (1-2-0) a 1-0 lead 7:08 into the second period. The goal could hardly be blamed on Price, who had Crosby fall on top of him after the Pens’ star was pushed by Canadiens’ defenseman Roman Hamrlik. That left an open net for Whitney, who collected a loose puck and fired it home for a power-play goal.

“I know that Crosby got pushed, but he never made an effort to go away from the blue paint,” Carbonneau said. “They really interfered with our goalie.”

Whitney was impressed with Price’s performance, to the point where he believed the latter was the difference in the game.

“The kid played pretty well, obviously made some big saves,” Whitney said. “He won the game for them.”

The Canadiens came storming back after Whitney’s tally with a pair of goals 3:53 apart. Tomas Plekanec tied the game at 1-1 when he took Andrei Markov’s pass and fired a slap shot past Marc-Andre Fleury for his first goal of the season. Alexei Kovalev put Montreal in front with his first goal of the season at 17:07 of the second when the former Penguin beat Fleury with a wrist shot to make it 2-1.

Markov gave the Canadiens a two-goal lead 2:51 into the third period when he grabbed a loose rebound in front of the net and fired it past Fleury to make it 3-1. Pittsburgh cut the margin back to a goal when Maxime Talbot took a no-look, backhand pass from behind the net by Malkin and beat Price. But the Penguins couldn’t get the equalizer.

“We kind of let up there for 10 minutes in the second,” Talbot said. “And that killed our momentum and killed us at the end.”

Price’s performance and demeanor left Canadiens’ captain Saku Koivu highly impressed. His efforts helped Montreal kill four of Pittsburgh’s five power plays.

“I thought he really looked confident,” Koivu said. “And if he was nervous, he didn’t show it at all. We took some penalties in the first period so he had to get into the game right away, and he made some key saves, kept us in the game.”

It was a game that Price will never forget. Not only did he fulfill a lifelong dream of playing in the National Hockey League, but to pick up his first career victory in the same building that Roy did could wind up being something that is extremely special as far as the history of the Montreal Canadiens.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” said Price. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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