Carey Price had just played what arguably was his finest game of the season, but after the Montreal Canadiens had completed their series comeback to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup First Round, the goalie wasn’t going to make it about himself.
“This is the best team game that we’ve played this season,” Price said following a 3-1 win in Game 7 at Scotiabank Arena on Monday.
Price made 30 saves, his shutout broken by William Nylander with 1:36 to play, as the No. 4 seed Canadiens stunned the No. 1 seed Maple Leafs with their third straight elimination-game victory after winning Games 5 and 6 in overtime.
Price finished the series with a .932 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average. With the Canadiens season on the brink, Price had a 1.83 GAA and .945 save percentage in Games 5-7.
In victory, the 33-year-old was as economical with words as he was yielding goals to his opponent, typically deflecting praise to the skaters in front of him. Price gave high marks to his defense and the way his teammates generally threw a checking blanket over Maple Leafs sniper Auston Matthews and playmaker Mitchell Marner.
Matthews, whose 41 regular-season goals won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, had just one on 32 shots in the series while Marner had just four assists.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Price said. “Just try to keep playing them tight and they did a great job all series.”
Of his defense:
“They’re warriors, those guys. They’re big and mean, poised with the puck and they do an excellent job.”
If Price wasn’t going to talk about his work, a huge reason why the Canadiens advanced, forward Brendan Gallagher was happy to speak up.
“That’s Carey,” Gallagher said of Price’s calm, almost sleepy demeanor following the win, very much in keeping with how the goalie carries himself win or lose. “He’s played in so many big games. We gave him one goal and we almost knew it would be enough.
“I can’t tell you what it’s like playing in front of him. It’s just so easy playing in front of him because you know he’s there to bail you out. … It’s a different level of confidence when you have ‘Pricey’ back there, especially in these elimination games. He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
Price was one of the question marks going into the first round, having endured a difficult season with injuries. A lower-body injury caused him to miss six games from April 7-16, and in his second game back on April 19, he sustained a concussion that kept him out the final 13 games of the regular season.
As a result, Price played in 25 games this season, going 12-7-5 with a 2.64 GAA, .901 save percentage and one shutout.
But the 14-season veteran was ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and entering Game 7, Canadiens forward Eric Staal suggested there was something to be said about Price having worked his way into the heads of frustrated Maple Leafs shooters.
“I think there’s probably times when there’s moments of that,” Staal said. “I know playing in front of that, the feeling of knowing he’s going to be there, it’s a great feeling.
“[The Maple Leafs] have good players, and when you have somebody like Carey back in there, it’s huge. I love the way he prepares for a game. I’ve been here with him this season, and just seeing how he prepares and how he carries himself, it goes a long way with the team.”