MONTREAL — When all is said and done, no one will remember the meaningless April game that was played between two rosters that barely met pre-season requirements for veterans dressed.
The score was inconsequential, though you should know that the Winnipeg Jets’ B-squad beat the Montreal Canadiens’ B-squad 5-4 in overtime after squandering leads of 3-0 and 4-3. You should also know that Jets forward Patrik Laine scored his 44th goal of the season to stay within striking distance of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin’s 46 in the race for the “Rocket” Richard Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL’s top goal scorer; that Jets defenceman Sami Niku scored the first goal of his NHL career in the first game of his NHL career; that Kerby Rychel scored his first goal as a Canadien in just his second game with the franchise; that Canadiens winger Paul Byron, he of the great waiver claim of 2015, scored his 20th goal of the season, which made it the second year in a row he’s accomplished that feat; and that 24-year-old Alex Galchenyuk scored his 19th goal of the season and breached the 50-point plateau for the second time in his short career.
But the only thing that was truly memorable about Tuesday’s game occurred during a first-period commercial break, when a video tribute to Carey Price acknowledged his 557th start in a Canadiens uniform — a franchise record previously held by the great Jacques Plante.
“Felicitations, Carey,” said Montreal’s last legendary goaltender Patrick Roy in the video. “Congratulations for this accomplishment. 557 games! That’s very impressive. Keep going and raising the bar.”
Next up was Ken Dryden, who backstopped the Canadiens to six Stanley Cups in eight seasons in the 1970s.
“Carey, un ami m’a deja dit (a friend once told me) there are few things as certain in sports than great centre-fielders for the New York Yankees and great goalies for the Montreal Canadiens,” said Dryden. “Felicitations pour cette accomplissement et merci (congratulations for this accomplishment and thank you) for raising the bar for all of us.”
Price’s career highlights wrapped, the crowd rose to its feet, and the noise reached a decibel level previously unattained at any other point during the 40 other games played at the Bell Centre during this hopeless season for the Canadiens. Then Price, with tears in his eyes, saluted the crowd, took a goal-scorer’s run through the high-five line at Montreal’s bench and returned to his net.
The ovation kept going.
“It was definitely an emotional moment for myself,” Price said afterwards. “I didn’t expect it to be, but that video and that ovation was something that I really needed. I’m really thankful and really appreciate that.”
“Just the reaction from the crowd was something I’ll never forget,” Price added.
What we’ll never forget is the conviction with which Price admitted how much he needed this in what’s easily been the most trying season of his career. A season in which he’s appeared virtually unrecognizable in relation to the guy who built himself up as the consensus best goaltender in the world over the four seasons leading into this one.
And it’s hard to ignore this: You know how badly Price wanted to win this final game at the Bell Centre this season, especially on a record-setting occasion, but his role in the Canadiens losing it could not be discounted. Five goals against — three of them going right through him, the other two borne by pitiful defence — was but a continuation of what we’ve seen from him (and them) all season. His record dipping to 16-25-7, his save percentage dropping to .901 and his goals-against average rising to 3.09 served as an accurate reflection of all of that.
So, yeah, you bet Price needed that special moment. He needed to know that all of the doubt his play inspired this year can quickly be replaced by the same belief that has been there through most of his 557 games. And the timing of it was particularly important — as he nears the end of this chapter and readies himself for the one that begins next fall, with his eight-year, $84 million contract kicking in.
“We’ve got a good, educated fan base and they recognize what he’s done for this organization,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “Even though he’s had a tough year this year, he’s been a great goaltender and will continue to be a great goaltender for this organization for many years to come. I think it was nice for him to feel that, knowing that the people are still behind him. Even though he has had one average year, they still recognize everything else he’s done and they still believe in him. So there’s no doubt for him, and even for us, it was nice to see a little bit of positive through some tough times here.”
It was a welcome change, no doubt. A moment everyone will remember — and hopefully one Price, the Canadiens and their fans can soon look at as a turning point to better days.
Tuesday’s game and the result, on the other hand, was more of the same forgettable stuff this season was made of.