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Price driven by desire to lift Canadiens to Stanley Cup

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

LAS VEGAS -- For years, as criticism surrounded Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price at a young age, he told people to be patient.

A goaltender's prime normally doesn't begin until his late 20s, Price would say over and over as he fielded questions about the inconsistency in his game earlier in his career.

Price turns 28 in August.

He was right.

After years of doubt about his long-term potential to become an elite NHL goalie, Price had a season for the ages and is in line to have that performance rewarded here Wednesday at the NHL Awards (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

Price is nominated for the Hart Trophy as the League's most valuable player, the Vezina Trophy as its top goaltender and the Ted Lindsay Award as its most outstanding player as voted by the players.

It was the type of season that would suggest that Price has indeed reached his prime, and the rest of the NHL had better hope so, because if he is still on the upswing of his career, they will be in big trouble.

Still, while sitting among the best players in the NHL, Price is less than completely satisfied with how his career has gone to this point.

"It's coming together," he said Tuesday. "It's always been a process. A lot of goaltenders my age have already had a lot of success. I feel like my career is progressing in the right direction, but I'm still looking for what I ultimately want."

Price said he compares himself to Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who won the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career last week and is two years older than Price.

The evaluation of goaltenders is often linked to the success of their teams, and that appears inherently unfair. But Price apparently doesn't think so.

More than a month after his Canadiens were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Price still feels he was to blame for that loss, just as he did May 12 after a 4-1 loss in Game 6 of the series.

"When you don't win there's more you can do," Price said. "As a bigger part of this team, I feel like that's on me. I've got to be that much better."

Price's nomination for the Hart Trophy shines through in that quote. He plays for a team that not only struggles to score, but plays in such a way that encourages low-scoring games under coach Michel Therrien's conservative style. Having Price in net allows him to play that style, and it has proven to be successful in recent years with the Canadiens playing five playoff rounds over the past two seasons.

That whole system crumbles without Price.

"I think it speaks for itself the way that he played this year," Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "He came out and every night he was giving his team a chance to win and a chance to win games a lot of times 1-0. It's pretty amazing what he's done. He's a terrific goalie."

The road here was not always smooth for Price, but that bumpy road is also a big part of why he is here.

When Price was starting his career in Montreal, he was placed on a pedestal, immediately anointed as the next one in a long line of great Canadiens goalies. When that took a little longer to happen than some people might have liked, the pendulum swung hard in the other direction, and the criticism of Price was centered not only on his game, but also his lifestyle and work habits.

Going through the extremes of being made a hero and a villain before his 25th birthday forced Price to shut out all the external voices surrounding him, and it's no different now.

As much as Price had to learn to ignore what people were saying about him during the down times, he intends to do the same now that he is poised for a historic night at the NHL Awards.

"I've seen a lot of things, I've learned a lot of things and I think I ultimately have the [Montreal] market to thank for that," Price said. "I've grown up a lot faster than I would have in a lot of different markets."

On the ice, Price's excellence also is closely tied to his mental approach to the game.

When goaltending coach Stephane Waite arrived from the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2013-14 season, one of the biggest adjustments he made with Price was his focus. Instead of a big-picture approach, it became very specific to that day's task, the next opponent, the next challenge. Suddenly, long-term goals were no longer a topic of conversation Price agreed to engage in, especially in the middle of the season.

He was asked several times Tuesday if he feels his excellent season creates increased pressure to try to improve on it next season. On each occasion Price responded no, because he no longer thinks in those terms.

"I think the biggest thing is I was trying to focus more on being successful as opposed to focusing on what I needed to do to be successful. That basic mindset was a big difference," Price said. "[Waite] has definitely helped with that, my dad's helped with that, but ultimately it takes the individual to accept that. Over the last couple of years, I think I've really done that."

It's hard to argue with the results.

Price's talent has always been evident, and that's why the Canadiens took him with the No. 5 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. He simply needed to find a way to properly harness it.

"I've known [Price] for a long time; I played against him when he was in Tri-City in junior, and he's always been that way where he just seems to float around effortlessly," fellow Vezina finalist Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild said. "I've been on the ice with him sometimes in the summer and joke with other goalies that it's just not fair to watch him go around the crease. You watch him move out there, and that's why he's able to stay calm and make it look effortless."

A few years ago, that effortlessness was seen as laziness, or a lack of intensity, because the results weren't there to back it up. Now, it is seen as his greatest asset, and it can be an intimidating force to opposing shooters.

"He's just always in the right position. And he's just effortless. It just looks easy for him," New York Islanders captain John Tavares said. "Sometimes you think you let one rip and you feel like you got some pretty good wood on it and you got the target that you've looked at and picked off, and he kind of just gloves it like it was a bouncing tennis ball going in there. He just makes it look easy."

The thing is it's not easy, and it hasn't been easy for Price to reach this point, nor did he make it look that way.

Every minute of that journey has been documented, picked apart and analyzed to death. In the midst of that environment, Price had to find a way to realize the promise he showed at such an early age, promise that did not translate so easily at this level.

No matter what happens at the NHL Awards on Wednesday, the event serves as proof not only that Price has arrived, but that he is here to stay.

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