The rumors swirled in the days leading up to the Bruins-Canadiens series. Was goaltender Carey Price playing hurt? Did he still have physical issues stemming from the Olympic Games in Sochi? Would he be sharp enough to keep his team afloat in the second round of the playoffs against archrival Boston?
The doubts were all for naught as Price was superb for the Habs in Game 1 Thursday night at TD Garden.
The 26-year-old netminder completely shut down the Bruins in the first two periods, giving his team a chance for the victory as the Canadiens took a 2-0 lead into the third.
But the Bruins launched a massive push, scoring three times to just once for the Habs in the final frame, forcing overtime. Price was brilliant in the first extra session, turning aside quality chance after quality chance to send the game to a second overtime. That’s when P.K. Subban ended it on his second power-play goal of the night, a strike at 4:17 that gave Montreal a 4-3 victory.
Price stopped 14 shots in the first overtime and wound up with 48 saves on the night.
“It was a battle, it was exactly what we were expecting,’’ said Price, who completely stoned offensive talents such as Bruins center David Krejci, who had five shots and nothing to show for it. “We just gutted it out. It was a hard-fought game, it could’ve gone either way.’’
When asked about the saves he made, Price said he wasn’t comfortable pointing out individual things he did well, instead he said it was a “full team effort.’’
After a strong couple of periods in which the Bruins had a multitude of chances but couldn’t bury them, they regrouped for the third and took it to the Canadiens.
In overtime, though, the Habs found a way to regroup themselves and put pressure back on Boston.
“We were pushed back on our heels a little bit, I thought, in the third with home-ice pressure,’’ said Price, who is riding a five-game postseason winning streak. “They’re a relentless team. They pushed back and worked their way back into the hockey game and you’ve got to give them some credit.’’
With the teams heading into the second overtime, Price said his team realized the game was up for grabs and they wanted to be the ones to take it.
“Feeling for yourself at that time isn’t the correct way to go about things,’’ he said.
Cue the other hero of the night — Subban. The defenseman had Montreal’s first goal as well as the most important one.
“He played very well,’’ said Price. “We lean on him a lot and he plays a lot of big minutes for our team and that was a great performance tonight. We needed that for our team.’’
Price said that Subban thrives in a tough environment.
“I think he’s comfortable playing in hostile environments,’’ he said. “I think that’s a very good character trait to have.’’
When asked if he thought Game 1 was typical of what we were going to see throughout the series, Price said he doesn’t doubt it.
“This whole rivalry has been going on for many years before I was born and it will probably be going on for a long time after I’m gone,’’ he said.
Despite the long evening, and the many shots he faced, Price said he didn’t feel overly fatigued.
“I feel good, that’s what we train for all year,’’ he said. “It’s just gut check time, that’s really what it comes down to.’’
For his part, Subban said Price was just playing the way they’ve become accustomed to.
“Between all our centermen and Carey Price, I thought they were huge for us today,’’ said Subban. “Both goaltenders played well. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in my opinion [Price] is the best goaltender in the league and he showed that again today.’’
When asked if the Canadiens can win the series playing the way they did in Game 1, Subban said that assessment was extremely premature.
“I don’t even think we can think about winning the series,’’ said Subban. “A couple years ago, we came in here and took two games and went back and lost in Game 7. When there’s success, you’ve got to take it and get better. There are a lot of things we need to get better on. We can’t be giving up 50 shots, I can tell you that, for the rest of the series. Pricey shouldn’t have to stop that many pucks. He shouldn’t have to.’’
In the end, though, it went the Canadiens’ way.Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.