MONTREAL – Carey Price looks like a man who has misplaced his pulse while tending goal for the Montreal Canadiens. Whether it is the playoff crucible, or even the Olympic one, he is calmer than a still lake while gliding around the crease.
A remarkably steady demeanour has served him well away from the blue paint, too – for that is where a second-round battle (of wits) has been waged with the Boston Bruins over the last 48 hours.
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With the long wait between the final buzzer on Saturday afternoon and the start of Game 3 on Tuesday night, every last detail of the series got combed over. And as the Bruins reflected on their comeback victory to even the series, defencemen Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug let it slip that the team felt it had uncovered Price’s weakness: Shooting high.
To which, Price simply shrugged, so what?
“I’ve seen a lot of scouting reports on lots of goalies throughout the league and that’s pretty much the scouting report on everybody,” he said Monday after practice. “So it’s the same for Tuukka (Rask), it’s the same for me, it’s the same for Ben Bishop, it’s the same for Corey Crawford.
“It’s a pretty irrelevant comment I thought.”
What is relevant is the possible motivation behind the statements. While only Hamilton and Krug truly know why they delved into the subject with local reporters, the Habs saw it as a sign of escalated psychological warfare in a series where it seems almost inevitable that emotions will eventually boil over.
It was Montreal goalie coach Stephane Waite that approached Price at the team’s practice facility on Monday morning to bring him up to speed on what was being discussed in Boston. He had seen similar tactics used while working for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, when the Bruins openly discussed what they believed to be a weak glove hand on Corey Crawford during the Stanley Cup Final. (That strategy ultimately proved to be unsuccessful during a six-game defeat).
Price is competing in the second round of the playoffs for the second time in his NHL career and estimates that only “10 percent” of goals come off clean shots at this time of year. He believes half are the result of screens, with deflections accounting for the rest.
Six of the seven goals he allowed over the opening two games of this series beat him high. However, only Torey Krug’s close-in slapper along the ice in Game 1 and Reilly Smith’s winner late in Game 2 came on plays where he had a clear view of the puck. Traffic, tip-ins and a couple bad breaks led to the others.
Price caused a mini-stir of his own after allowing three goals in less than six minutes late in Saturday’s game and suggesting afterwards that the Bruins had been “lucky” to pull out the victory. What he was referring to specifically was a tying goal from Patrice Bergeron that inexplicably skipped off the ice 15 feet in front of him and rocketed straight into the top of the net. You could probably watch a 1,000 more hockey games and never see it repeated.
“A puck that hits nothing and goes top shelf? That’s pretty lucky in my opinion,” Price reiterated Monday.
The mind games in this series are escalating right along with the anticipation in Montreal, where a wild atmosphere is expected to greet these teams at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night. There is a noticeable buzz in the air and the off-ice talk is taking it up an octave.
This is what a Habs-Bruins matchup is all about and the veterans of the rivalry know it.
Michel Therrien has seen a few of these series play out during two stints as Canadiens head coach and waded into the mud with a few pointed shots at the Bruins. First he dismissed the comments about Price. “It’s not a new strategy as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “It’s old as dirt.”
Then he criticized counterpart Claude Julien, who told reporters that Boston had to overcome “a lot of crap” during the victory in Game 2.
“They try to put pressure on the other team regarding the media,” said Therrien. “It’s the same thing with Claude, he’s not happy with all that ‘crap.’ I thought they got away with a lot of things as far as we’re concerned. But they try to influence referees.
“That’s the way they are. That’s not going to change. That’s the way they like to do their things.”
As far as targets go, Price makes a whole lot of sense.
It is difficult to imagine Montreal pulling off an upset in this series without him being spectacular. He was a rock during a 48-save, double-overtime win in Game 1 and has all the tools to make Boston’s Tuukka Rask, a Vezina Trophy finalist, look like the second-best goalie on the ice.
On top of that, he is an awfully tough guy to rattle. There are worse ideas than trying to plant a few doubts in his mind during the break between games.
However, after an instruction-heavy practice on Monday – one where Therrien stressed the need for the Habs to do a better job of dictating the play in the offensive zone and clogging the middle of the ice when the Bruins attack – it certainly didn’t seem like they had made much of an impact on Team Canada's starter from Sochi.
Or his Montreal teammates.
“We just need a little more from everybody,” said centre Lars Eller, pausing for effect...
"Except for Carey.”