He was almost easy to ignore as the Canadiens had their way — four lines churning and backing the Oilers into the corner with a 4-0 lead built on a power-play goal, two at even-strength and one shorthanded.
For as dominant as Montreal was in this game — fully, completely, and it was compensated with a 5-1 win — it was Price who delivered on the key tenet of the plan.
If you want to beat the Oilers — even this deeper group than we’ve seen most recently in Edmonton — you have to hope to contain Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. You can’t count on stopping them outright, but keeping them from scoring four points apiece, like they did in Thursday’s win over the Vancouver Canucks, is a must.
And on most nights, it takes a full team effort to do that.
But on this night, it took a superstar. The one named Price.
He is the equalizer on Montreal’s side, still very much the steady hand on this new-and-improved, bleu, blanc et rouge ship, and he showed it on his first save of the game — a dandy on Kyle Turris — and on the 33 that followed.
But the two saves Price made on McDavid, and the six he made on Draisaitl, were the difference between this game being close and it ending as it did.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien agrees.
“It’s certain he had a huge impact,” Julien said after Saturday’s game. “Listen, we’re not blind; we saw the chances they had to score and how solid Carey Price was on them. He was an excellent goalie for us tonight. We did good things, but we still have things we’ll continue to try to improve, and there were maybe too many chances against at a point…”
There was about 15 minutes of play between the Canadiens holding tight to a 1-0 lead late in the first period and expanding to 4-0 in the 10th minute of the second that come to mind.
It started with Price sliding across his crease to get a pad on a late first-period breakaway for McDavid.
Big-time save, yeah.
But Price is a big-time-save goaltender.
As Canadiens assistant captain Brendan Gallagher put it, “Probably the best player in the world coming down on him, but if you’re sitting on the bench you almost just know you’re going to get the save.”
If you’re sitting on Edmonton’s bench, you’re practically celebrating McDavid’s goal before the puck has even crossed the line.
Price took nothing for granted on the play. He didn’t guess, he didn’t try to bait McDavid into shooting to a specific spot; he just let the play come his way.
“It wasn’t really a read; it was just kind of a reaction,” Price said after the game. “He came in with a lot of speed and I was just able to close the holes.”
Because that’s what Price does when he’s on his game. He just closes holes.
The 33-year-old pulled a page out of former Oilers goaltender Bill Ranford’s book early in the second period, stacking his pads on a Draisaitl snapper from 16 feet away to close a hole. It was a deadly power-play chance turned away with flair.
But Price made all the other hard saves look easy.
He made the easy ones look easy, too, which is not what you’d say of Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen on this night.
Still, the Canadiens made Koskinen’s night difficult. They deserve their due — if not for helping Price a bit with McDavid, Draisaitl and Co., then certainly for what they did offensively.
They started with wave after wave of pressure, inundating the Oilers and knocking them on their heels with their speed. Jeff Petry opened the scoring on the power play soon after.
The former Oiler added one at 5-on-5 after Tomas Tatar made it 2-0.
Jake Evans scored unassisted on a shorthanded rush before the game was half over, and the Canadiens suffocated the life out of the rest of this one before Tatar buried a breakaway beauty with just over 10 minutes remaining in the third.
The goal that beat Price? A laser from Slater Koekkoek with 8:01 remaining — an open shot from a sharp angle that grazed the goaltender’s mask and pinged off the back bar.
Shutout bid busted, but spirit barely dented.
Sure, Price was mad about it, but he was much happier about earning his first win of the season.
It was a commanding performance for him, and his teammates, and they all felt it — even if Julien wisely downplayed it knowing the next meeting with the Oilers is less than 48 hours away.
“We’re a fast team. We consider ourselves fast,” Julien said. “On the other side, they were playing their third game in four nights. So there was certainly a fatigue element on the other side that took away some of their speed.
“But it was up to us to be smart and take advantage of the fact that they were playing their third in four nights.”
And it was up to Price to make the difference against two players who are among the very best no matter what the situation. Even if the shine was off of him in this game, he did exactly that.