Caution should rule on a return to action for Carey Price

Watch as Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price seems to be in some discomfort after making a save against the New York Rangers and is on the bench to start the third period.

It didn’t look good.

When Carey Price slid across his crease and doubled over in the second period of the Canadiens’ 5-1 win over the New York Rangers Wednesday, he kick-started another round of Montreal’s least-fun guessing game.

Is it his groin? His knee? Does the recurrence of an injury he just came back from less than a week ago mean he’ll require surgery to fix it?

What if he’s been playing with this issue for much longer than anyone knew?

That last one is sure to be a popular query for Canadiens fans now. It’s only natural to wonder if Price is pushing himself too hard in November, as the Canadiens appear poised to potentially pull off miracles in June.

“The medical staff was really comfortable and Carey was really comfortable to come back,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien Wednesday night, assuring Price’s return from a 19-day absence wasn’t premature. “If we would have had any doubt, for sure we were never going to take that risk.”

Price has appeared in 447 games with Montreal since entering the league in 2007, but it’s the ones he’s missed that stand out in times like these. And it can’t be ignored that he has a history of playing through the pain.

There was that 12-game absence between Dec. 30, 2008 and Jan. 20, 2009. Price had sprained his ankle and rushed his way back into the Canadiens’ lineup so he could participate in the All-Star Weekend from Jan. 23-25. The festivities were in Montreal and he was voted into the starting lineup.

Before he suffered that injury, Price had won seven of nine starts and collected overtime points in the two losses. After pushing through All-Star Weekend, he lost 11 of 13 starts.

Since then?

2013: An MCL sprain in his left knee, suffered in the expiring moments of Montreal’s Game 4 loss to the Ottawa Senators in 2013. (It would’ve been hard to imagine him playing through that had the Canadiens not been eliminated the following game.)

2014: Price lost eight games to a lower-body injury in Feb. 2014. He had played through most of the Olympic Games with it and picked up a gold medal for his efforts.

A right knee sprain after New York’s Chris Kreider “accidentally” crashed into him in the second period of Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. Price finished the period.

2015: Goaltending coach Stephane Waite let it slip last summer that Price wasn’t at 100 per cent throughout the 2015 playoffs, from which the Canadiens were dispatched in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Now, the waiting game begins.

If the Canadiens are to be overly cautious this time around, it could be a long one.

The team’s public relations department has been forthcoming with injury news only when it’s been blatantly obvious what the ailment for a given player was (see Brendan Gallagher breaking two fingers in last Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Islanders).

Don’t hold your breath on a Price update rich with detail.

But if one does come, you’re likely to be holding your breath wondering if Mike Condon can be just as good in a prolonged absence for Price as he was in the his recent nine-game stretch.

Condon, who went 5-2-2 from Oct. 30 to Nov. 19, passed the first part of his second test in stopping all 11 shots he faced in the third period of Wednesday’s game.

Price’s return to the lineup last Friday in Brooklyn gave Condon an opportunity to put his first NHL starts in perspective.

“It gave me a taste of what it’s like,” he said last Saturday. “It takes a whole other level of focus. You get away with a whole lot more when you’re a starter in the lesser leagues. Up here, if you make a fraction of a mistake you know it’s in your net before you even see it.

“I have a new respect for the position," continued Condon. "I used to look and say about a goalie that had played 20 games in a row and allowed a questionable goal, ‘oh, that was a questionable goal.’

“But when you start playing that many games you realize that’s a lot of focus, that’s a lot of pucks, that’s a lot of attention to detail night after night after night.”

Condon knows the challenge ahead of him, whether it’s for one game or several.

“I’m not a big fan of stopping to smell the roses,” he said. “I think when you start to do that, you start to get familiar, and as my dad always says, ‘familiarity breeds contempt.’

“You gotta earn it every day and it can be taken away as quickly as it’s given. It’s about the next game.”

Condon has been confirmed for Montreal’s next game, Friday in New Jersey. As for Price, he’ll have to hope things can be given as quickly as they are taken away.

Maybe it’s better Price just be patient.