Canadiens' Carey Price returns to Bell Centre, where hero's welcome awaits

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) makes a save against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL Stanley Cup playoff action in Toronto on Thursday, May 20, 2021. (Frank Gunn/CP)

BROSSARD, Que. — It’s been 282 days since Carey Price last played, 284 days since he stopped 32 shots to help extend the 2021 Stanley Cup Final at the Bell Centre to a Game 5, but the long wait for his return is now officially over.

On Friday, when the Canadiens take on the New York Islanders in Montreal, Price will resume his role as franchise goaltender, and it’s anticipated he’ll be celebrated with a raucous ovation from fans in attendance.

It was anything but a given the 34-year-old would be able to do enjoy that this season—or ever again. A gruelling rehabilitation from knee surgery in July, interrupted by a stint in the NHL/NHLPA players assistance program in October and several setbacks that followed, left Price concerned about his playing future.

When he was asked on Jan. 30—during his first press conference since the Canadiens lost the Cup-clinching game to the Tampa Bay Lightning—if another step backwards could spell the end of his career, Price responded, “You never know.”

He had been practising regularly on his own from Nov. 29-Dec. 16 but was then forced off the ice until late January. After a few skates in early February, Price was again shut down until Mar. 9. And right as it appeared he was progressing, he fell ill with a non-Covid-related illness that once again delayed his return.

But it’s coming now, several months after Price explained why—after accomplishing nearly everything there was to accomplish over his 15-year NHL career, achieving this goal was still important to him.

“Well, it's a big part of my identity, for one,” Price said at the end of January. “Being a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens has been my life for over a decade… To be able to put that sweater on again is something that is keeping me motivated at this point.”

The former fifth overall pick of the Canadiens in 2005, who won Olympic gold in 2014 and helped Canada capture the 2016 World Cup of Hockey one year after winning the Hart, Vezina, Jennings Trophies and the Ted Lindsay Award, worked tirelessly to reach this day.

“It’s been a long, long road for him, so he’s eager to get in there,” said Price’s teammate since 2013 Brendan Gallagher. “It’s nice to see him again on gameday. He’s already that frame of mind down there—he’s getting ready, doing what he does that I’ve seen so many times throughout the years here—and it’s going to be exciting to see him again. It’s something he’s worked incredibly hard for, so in front of him we’ve got to give him a good effort and hopefully find a way to win a hockey game.”

Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis expects it to be a special occasion at the Bell Centre, regardless of the result.

“I think I have a good idea (of Price’s status in Montreal), but I might really feel that tonight,” he said after confirming Price’s return. “I understand, when I played, what he meant for the franchise. Did I really understand what he meant for the fans? I don’t know—I didn’t really live here, I didn’t really experience that.

“You could see it some games playing against him maybe, but… I just wasn’t around. But I think if I’m not sure, it’ll probably get reinforced tonight.”

There was hope Price’s return would come sooner, that he’d have been able to get into the Canadiens’ net to help them avoid falling to the bottom of the standings and remaining there from November to now.

But with eight games left in this lost season, the Anahim Lake, B.C., native still has something to play for.

“I think Carey wants to prove to himself, with the injury that he’s had, that he can bounce back,” said St. Louis. “And I think his summer’s going to be different if he can prove that to himself, and next year will probably be different, too. So, I think it’s a plus for everyone.

“Carey puts a lot of work. To be in this league a long time, there’s so much work that goes into it. The fans—they see the finished product every night, they don’t… There’s a saying and I truly believe it, I have this sign in my house, that champions are built when no one’s looking. For an athlete, you have to really take care of that and, in the summer, get up and get your work done… Carey’s done that all year, I think, to try to get to this.”

This will begin at 7 p.m. ET., and promises to be something special.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.