BROSSARD, Que.— They are the first players who come to mind when you think about these Montreal Canadiens, two players at the foundation of their success and two players entering the Stanley Cup Final on a mission to have their names removed from the list of all-time greats to have never hoisted hockey’s silver chalice.
Not to say this means more to Shea Weber and Carey Price than it does to anyone else in a Canadiens uniform, but it unquestionably means everything to them. They are Canadian legends, world champions at every level who have combined to play 1,745 regular season games and 179 more in the Cup Playoffs without ever getting this far And now, on the back nine of their respective careers, they both realize they might never get a better chance than the one that’s currently in front of them.
Their teammates know it, too.
"It's pretty crazy, just getting to be with them every day and see what they do on a day-to-day basis and how well they take care of themselves and how much this moment means to them because they've been playing for it their whole lives,” said Cole Caufield, who’s just three months into his NHL career and already on the precipice of accomplishing the dream Weber and Price have pursued at this level since he was in grade school.
“Just to be able to share this with them, it's been a lot of fun, but you see how serious this is,” Caufield added. “I saw that right away when I first stepped in the room.
“This is for them at this point."
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin built this team for Weber and Price. He may have been more inclined to spend over $100 million to improve the roster over the off-season based on what he saw in young centres Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi in last year’s bubble playoffs, but he said seeing both his captain and his star goaltender also perform at the height of their abilities crystalized his vision for what the Canadiens could become as early as this year.
The GM has always felt this way about Weber and Price. When Bergevin traded P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in 2016, he said what he was acquiring in Weber was “a diamond in the rough.” When he signed Price to an eight-year, $84-million contract in July of 2017, he said, “Goalies are not important until you don't have one...It's a position that's really hard to find, and we have, in my opinion, our opinion, one of the best in the business, so I'm going to keep him and make sure he's here for the rest of his career."
Bergevin has seen both players give heart and soul to the Canadiens over the years, he heard their appeals to put together a team that could reward their efforts, and he spoke on Sunday about what it means to him to have finally provided.
“Well, those two gentlemen,” Bergevin started, “Pricey and Webby, it is special because they are the oldest of our players as far as of the backbone of this team. They’ve been through a lot, these two. Pricer as a goaltender in Montreal, as we know, it’s demanding, there’s a lot of expectation. Yeah, we do have a special relationship…Also, Webby, he came here as part of a trade where PK was traded... And I know there's a lot of people that were guessing or second-guessing this transaction. And again, to get something that special you have to give up a good player. So I'm not taking anything away from PK, but to get Shea Weber here in Montreal, and what he brings on and off the ice—for me, it's special and we're four wins away from winning a championship (and that would) be ultra-special. So that’s where this relationship is.”
It's one of mutual respect, with both Weber and Price grateful to Bergevin trading for Suzuki and Tomas Tatar and drafting Kotkaniemi and Caufield in the years leading up to last summer’s decisions to bring in Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Corey Perry and Michael Frolik.
“Obviously, he did a lot of good things,” said Weber. “Filled some holes for us this off-season, and it’s paying off right now.”
Moves for Eric Staal, Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson ahead of this year’s trade deadline have also paid dividends but were heavily scrutinized prior to the playoffs beginning.
It’s all part of the ups and downs Bergevin has experienced over the past few months, and just a small sample of the turbulence he’s weathered in nine seasons on the job.
Price has been through it all—and then some—since being drafted fifth overall by the Canadiens in 2005. He was an instant success as MVP of the Calder Cup Playoffs in the Hamilton Bulldogs’ run to an AHL championship in 2007, elevated to a starting role with Montreal a season later, bumped down to backup during the team’s run to the 2010 Eastern Conference Final and bumped out of the 2014 ECF when New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him and injured his knee.
He experienced the highs of lifting the Hart, Lindsay, Vezina and Jennings Trophies in 2015 and has suffered many lows since, with the Canadiens failing to score the goals to support his best playoff performances and with him failing to prevent enough pucks from getting by him in failed regular seasons.
This past year, Price’s struggles played a hand in Claude Julien and Kirk Muller being replaced by Dominique Ducharme and Alex Burrows, and they were at the heart of Sean Burke taking over from Stephane Waite as goaltending coach.
But Bergevin reaffirmed his belief in Price upon making those decisions and has since taken a front-row seat to watching him answer his critics with a Conn Smythe-worthy performance to get to this point of the playoffs.
The two enjoyed something special after the Canadiens beat the Vegas Golden Knights to advance to the Final, an embrace that stands as one of the resonating images from an unforgettable night.
“We’ve gone through a lot together here in his tenure and gone through a lot of great times, a lot of hard times, and I was just happy to share a joyful moment with him,” the 33-year-old Price said. “He’s really earned it.”
For Bergevin, no player has earned this opportunity more than Price.
“I guess the expression we could use is he’s a big-game player,” the GM said. “He rises to the occasion. He does extremely well under pressure. In big moments, like the Olympics, he was outstanding. I was part of the management group at the World Cup, he was outstanding. When the game is on the line...I think they had a poll at some point in the past, if you need a big game to win, who you want to be your goaltender? It’s Carey Price. I think what you see now, it's how he's been.”
Lightning general manager Julien Brisebois, who was a member of the Canadiens brass when Price was drafted, said, “He’s got a Hall of Fame career if he retires right now.”
The same could be said of Weber.
What the Sicamous, B.C. native has been throughout these playoffs has fit perfectly with the legacy he’s built as one of the toughest and best defencemen in the world since he was drafted in 2003. He came into them with a busted left thumb and hurt his right one early in the Vegas series, but he’s soldiered on and played more an average than any player still remaining.
As partner Ben Chiarot said, Weber’s been an inspiration to everyone in Montreal’s room and has epitomized the workmanlike approach that has guided this Canadiens run.
“I think the thing with Webby is once we hit the ice it's all business. There’s no messing around,” said Chiarot. “He wants everything done exactly the way the coaches said it's (to be) done. And I think that's a big reason why he's been so successful as a player—his attention to details, his seriousness once we hit the ice. And off the ice, he's got a relationship with everybody in the room. The young guys—he's dad to the young guys, and he's buddies with all the older guys. He connects with everybody, and I think that's why he's considered one of the best captains in the league.”
A Cup would cement Weber’s status as one of the best ones ever.
It would also propel Price further up the hierarchy of the greatest goaltenders in league history.
“It’s been something we’ve been working towards our whole lives,” Price said, “and finally getting the opportunity, we’re just looking forward to it.”