April 15, 2011

Habs' Price is the Dfference

Coming into Game 1 of the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Carey Price had lost his last eight playoff starts and hadn't won a playoff game since the Spring of '08.  Well, that was a different Carey Price than the one we've seen in 2010-11.  This season, Price has relished his role as the number 1 goaltender and appears to be far more confident on and off the ice as he started 72 games for the Habs.  It was that Carey Price who backstopped the Canadiens to a 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of their playoff encounter at the TD Garden in Beantown, a result that hands Montreal home ice advantage in the series. Right from the start, Montreal appeared to be employing their game plan from last season's playoff run in which they upset both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins before falling to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Finals.  Score early and then back up the bus in front of the net to protect the lead.  Brian Gionta got the Canadiens started with the early goal on a defensive lapse from the Bruins as he beat goaltender Tim Thomas high on the glove side.  Thomas couldn't be blamed for this one.  However, the same cannot be said for the second goal.

Rewind to the Spring of 2010 and it was Jaroslav Halak barring the door in front of the Canadiens goal and often having to stop 40+ shots a night.  Last summer, one could easily have made the argument that Montreal dealt away the wrong goaltender.  The decision to trade Halak to St. Louis doesn't appear to be so controversial any longer.  Now it's Carey Price facing the barrage of shots and the Bruins did their part to play the role of frustrated opponent, especially in the second period when they looked closest to scoring and appeared to have the Habs reeling.  As Price said in the locker room after the game, the "rope-a-dope" style worked and they were able to play a much more effective game in the third period by clearing traffic away from the net and giving Price a clear view on Boston's shots on goal.

And then out of nowhere, a Canadiens goal was manufactured by of all people, Scott Gomez.  Gomez has had a terrible season in Montreal and has been heavily criticized by fans and media, but on this night was one of the team's heroes with 2 assists.  Gomez stole the puck inside the Bruins zone and fed Brian Gionta for the goal that sealed the Bruins fate.  This was a bad goal for the Bruins on a couple of levels.  It was the result of a turnover in their own zone late in the game and it was a shot that Tim Thomas should have stopped.  If you're a Bruins fan, you have to wonder if Thomas is the type of goaltender that can take a team to the Cup.  His playoff record coming into this game was a mediocre 10-8.  Yes, he put up Vezina Trophy winning numbers this season as he did 2 years ago, but the question is, can he be relied upon in a big game?  To date, the answer is No.  He doesn't project the confidence that you expect from a big game goalie, and his unorthodox style can sometimes leave him out of position and vulnerable.  Until this season, Carey Price may not have inspired that confidence either, but Price has excelled in big game situations in the past with Team Canada in the World Junior Championships and more recently with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Calder Cup Playoffs.  Price now appears to be bringing that game to the NHL Playoffs.  This isn't a major revelation, but this series is going to come down to the goaltenders and in that regard, the Canadiens have an advantage.  This loss substantially hurts the Bruins chances of winning the series as they have played poorly at the Bell Centre in Montreal this season (losing all three contests convincingly), and now they are going to have to win a game in that building to survive.

Factoid:  Price's shutout of the Bruins in Game 1 was his third in his playoff career.  All have come against Boston.

- Brian Lomax

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