PHILADELPHIA - Carey Price may have been all smiles at practice Tuesday but there was no guarantee the 20-year-old rookie would be back in net for the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.
"I haven't decided yet," head coach Guy Carbonneau told reporters after the team's skate. "You will see tomorrow night at 7 p.m. who the goalie is."
Price had a tough outing Monday night as the Canadiens fell 3-2 to the Flyers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The rookie netminder was pulled after 40 minutes, having given up three goals on 12 shots.
A loss Wednesday would mean the Habs go back home to Montreal down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
So with the stakes that high, what does Carbonneau decide?
He has seen his prized netminder give up seven goals on 35 shots in the last two games, not to mention lose four of his last six starts dating back to the Boston first-round series.
On the flip side, backup Jaroslav Halak hasn't started a game since March 29 at Toronto - a month ago.
"He's shown me a lot since he's been here," Carbonneau said of Halak, recalled from AHL Hamilton after Cristobal Huet was traded to Washington at the trade deadline.
Price didn't speak to the media after Monday's loss but as a massive media contingent gathered outside his stall in the visitors' dressing room at Wachovia Center on Tuesday, he sounded like the calm and collected rookie that's taken the NHL by storm.
"It's the NHL playoffs, I'm 20 years old, I'm finding it out the hard way that playoffs aren't easy," Price shrugged. "It's better to find out now than it is to find out at 30."
Montreal goalie coach Roland Melanson was seen chatting with his young protege on the ice before practice.
"We just talked about the game in general," said Price. "Sometimes pucks just don't hit you. I got a piece of every puck that went in last game. I was half an inch away from stopping all of them. It's just the way it goes and that's what we talked about."
Recent history suggests Price will come back strong. He's excelled in high pressure situations before, winning a gold medal for Canada at the world junior hockey championship in January 2007 and capturing MVP honours in the AHL playoffs last spring while leading the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup. And when things looked dicey in the Boston series, he shut the door in a Game 7 victory.
"He's a huge part of the reason why we're here," said winger Tom Kostopoulos, looking on as the huge media scrum with Price continued. "If it wasn't for him we might not have got past that first round against Boston. So we have all the confidence in the world with him."
Still, perhaps for the first time in his short NHL career, Price looked rattled Monday night. He let in three goals he would usually stop and his body language was that of a flustered young man.
"Confidence is such a big part of professional sports, especially hockey and particularly for goalies," Flyers centre Mike Richards said Tuesday at the team's suburban practice facility in Voorhees, N.J. "When we get a few bounces like we've had, I'm sure it rattled his confidence a little. But I would expect not to see the Carey Price we've seen the last couple of games, I think we'll see the Carey Price we saw in the Boston series. ...
"He's going to bounce back and you've got to know he's going to come up with one of his best games."
Richards and the Flyers are doing their best to get under Price's skin and into his head. They've crashed the crease hard and poked at him whenever possible. Flyers agitator Steve Downie also tripped him late in the first period of Game 1, which ignited a melee.
"There's a little bit of physical contact, but it's not a real big deal to me at all," said Price. "I'm a pretty big fella and I can handle myself."
When he left the ice after the second period Monday night, some Flyers players could also be seen chirping at Price.
But the rookie shrugged it off Tuesday.
"It's part of the game, there's a lot of trash talking going on," said Price. "It's all part of it, they try to get you off your game."
The Canadiens, meanwhile, have to believe their luck will soon turn. They've outshot the Flyers 70-37 in the last two games, while also outchancing them 38-10.
"I know if we keep playing like this, we'll be OK," said Carbonneau.
But he would like to see his team get off to better starts. The Flyers have jumped out to 2-0 leads in all three games.
"And that's hard to always come back like that, especially in the playoffs," said Carbonneau. "Those are things that we've talked about. There are players on this team that have to show a bit more and show that urgency right from the start."
Carbonneau disagreed, however, with the notion that the Flyers' physical play has been a factor in the Flyers' leading the series.
"Not at all," said Carbonneau. "I think the series against Boston was a lot more physical than the first three games we've had against Philly. ...
"I don't feel we've backed down," he added. "Teams have tried that for 82 games, or 90 games now, and it hasn't worked. So I don't see it working."
Note - Veteran defenceman Patrice Brisebois rejoined the Canadiens in time for practice after arriving from Montreal on Tuesday morning. He missed the last two games with a leg injury. Carbonneau said he would see how Brisebois felt in the pre-game skate Wednesday morning before deciding whether to insert him back in the lineup.