Was Canadiens' season-ending win the end of Carey Price era?

Cole Caufield had a big night with a hat-trick to lead the Montreal Canadiens to victory over the Florida Panthers 10-2.

MONTREAL — With roughly 20 seconds to go in a 10-2 win for his Montreal Canadiens on Friday, Carey Price plopped his stick atop his net and began waving at his family. This happened while play was still ongoing — with the Canadiens in possession of the puck just 10 feet away from him — and there’s no way of knowing with any certainty what it symbolized.

Was he just so ecstatic about his first win of the season that he couldn’t wait until the end to celebrate it?

Was he just wrapped up in the moment, with the Canadiens winning by more than a touchdown after giving up at least five goals in 31 of their 82 games this season?

Or was Price just thinking about how these might have been his final seconds as a Canadien?

Before they expired, he made 37 saves against the Florida Panthers — 30 would’ve done the trick — and notched his 361st win in his 700th start.

But Price wasn’t around post-game to talk about it.

Pierre Gervais (the team’s equipment manager, who worked his final game on Friday after 35 years in his position) was, and he contemplated what the future holds for No. 31.

“I hope the best, and for whatever he hopes,” Gervais said. “This guy, I’ve said it before, he’s amazing, he’s been through a lot of stuff. He’s working so hard off the ice, and hopefully this summer is going to be a good summer for him; he’s going to get set up with all his doctors and (deal with) all his injuries and he’s going to have a couple more seasons, hopefully.”

Gervais, who is known for being all-knowing about all things near and dear to the Canadiens, didn’t deny this might have been Price’s last one in Montreal—or in the NHL.

“It’s a possibility,” Gervais said. “I’m not a doctor, but it’s a possibility.

“But that would be a great way to finish; tonight was amazing.”

It was something much better than what we saw on most nights this season — the Canadiens tumbled to the bottom of the standings early on and locked themselves into last place in the NHL before the puck even dropped. They thumped the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers (or a version of them, with the Panthers resting virtually all of their best players ahead of what they hope will be a very long playoff run) and had all but two of their players register at least a point in the game.

Cole Caufield, who began the season with one goal over his first 30 games, managed to score three to bring his total to 23 in 67 games. He finished tied in second for goals among rookies with Trevor Zegras (74 games) Michael Bunting (79 games) and Lucas Raymond (82 games) and can leave for home or the World Championship — he hasn’t decided yet — feeling like he has achieved something.

The fans chanted 'Caufield! Caufield! Caufield!' both after he scored his third goal and after the game, and he addressed them and thanked them for their support.

“I’m not going to lie, it feels pretty good,” Caufield told the media. “I think it was a fun night for all of us playing for some pretty important people in our organization, and I think it was a good way to go out and end the season on a win.”

And then Caufield said this about Price:

“It means everything to us (to win for him),” he started. “He’s the backbone of our team, he’s a guy you want to play for, and just having in the room every day was just something special and you just feel the energy he brings no matter if he’s excited or not.

“You just feel him back there, and it helps a lot that he’s very good at his job.”

Whether or not Price believes he can be as good as he expects himself to be is a question only he can answer. And he might not be willing to come Saturday, when the Canadiens hold their end-of-season media availabilities.

The soon-to-be 35-year-old’s week started on the sidelines. He traveled to New York to meet with surgeon Robert Marx about the knee procedure last July that repaired his meniscus but took much longer than anticipated to heal. Several setbacks — following a one-month stint in the NHL/NHLPA’s player assistance program — turned what was supposed to be an eight-to-10-week recovery into a nearly season-long absence, and there was fear Price had suffered another setback after just four games of action.

Without any official word, Price was back on the ice Thursday despite the Canadiens having a day off. He led the team on the ice for morning skate Friday and was confirmed as the starter shortly after by coach Martin St. Louis.

After Price picked his stick back up off his net and got back into his crouch with time expiring on the game, the crowd gave him and the Canadiens a standing ovation.

It chanted 'Carey! Carey! Carey!' after his first save of the night, and again, late in the game, when he flashed to the top of his crease to make a windmill glove save on former teammate Ben Chiarot.

Price was all smiles as the Canadiens stood along the blue line and saluted the fans ahead of giving away their jerseys and signing autographs for them.

“I think it meant a lot,” said St. Louis. “I think he wanted to play towards the end, and first few games we didn’t give him any run support, so it could’ve been different. But I think him winning this game, I think it means a lot. If I put myself in his shoes, battling what he’s battled, the level that he’s played at in this league, and he’s got his own expectation — the top guys in this league are really hard on themselves — so for him to finish like this, I’m really happy for him.”

Gervais was more than just content for Price.

“I’m so, so, so happy for Carey Price,” he said. “He’s an extraordinary man. Never mind the goaltender, who was the best in the world, and all the things he did; I had the chance to be with him alone in the dressing room on many early mornings, and he’s just an extraordinary person.”

They won together with Team Canada — Olympic champions in Sochi, Russia, in 2014, which sticks with Gervais as his fondest memory of Price.

“This guy here,” he said, “I’ve never seen a hockey player — even my colleague from the New York Rangers, who was in Sochi, he said, ‘What the hell is that guy?’ — he was the first guy to arrive, full suit, cowboy hat, focus… He was incredible, and I had no doubt at all we were going to win the gold medal in Sochi. Carey was invincible.”

Less so now, hence all the uncertainty.

Price is under contract for four more seasons. He’s got an annual average salary of $10.5 million and is still owed $31.25 million — $24.25 million of which must be paid in signing bonuses — and it’s impossible to say at this moment if he’ll play again. Injuries have piled up over the years and validated this doubt, with him only appearing in five of 82 games this season.

Perhaps Price will announce on Saturday that he will continue, and that he intends to do it with the Canadiens for as long as he wishes to do it for.

But if that’s not the case, he spent his last seconds in the only uniform he’s ever worn in this league — the franchise leader in games started and won — sharing it with the people that matter most to him.

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