Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was making his third professional visit to his native province Monday, and unlike his previous homecomings, this game was more business trip than love-in.
Price made 37 saves, and was named the game's first star, in a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. He was only beaten by Vancouver's top-ranked power play, and the Anahim Lake, B.C. native erased the memories of a 7-1 thrashing last year in his first career start at home.
"They won't have to call the drywaller this year. The walls are safe," Price said in reference to a hole he punched in the visitors dressing room last year.
Price, 23, made his initial return to B.C. two years ago, but was passed over for the starting nod by then head coach Guy Carbonneau. He got some mop-up duty, but it was an enormous disappointment given how many visitors he had in attendance. Price is a role model for B.C.'s native communities, and hundreds of young people turned out at the Canucks home arena to see their hero that day. The young goalie treated this rendezvous with the Canucks differently, however, saying "no" to appearances and arena guests because he didn't want to be distracted.
He had roughly 50 friends and family members in attendance, but there was no entourage before or after the game.
"I put a lot of mental preparation into this one," he said. "I remember last year and not getting the opportunity to play before that [in 2009] It really meant a lot to me and everyone in this locker room knew that, and really battled for me."
To wit, defenceman Paul Mara secured the game-winning puck for Price, who said it was the first disc from this season that he will keep as a memento. When asked why, he replied: "I've been watching the Canucks my whole life being from B.C."
Price's only mistake was shooting the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty early in the second period. It led to a Henrik Sedin goal, but the Canadiens remained in charge of this contest thanks to an astounding display in the opening 10 minutes.
They made the NHL's leading team look like minnows in a stretch where the shots were 13-1 in Montreal's favour. David Desharnais and Brian Gionta scored 67 seconds apart to stake the visitors to a 2-0 lead before an electric crowd of 18,860, many of them cheering for the Habs.
"In the first 10 minutes, they threw everything they had at us," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "They were first on the puck, and completely controlled the game."
The game's second star could very well have been Montreal head coach Jacques Martin. He authored a masterstroke at practice Monday by juggling his lines and matching slumping winger Andrei Kostitsyn with centre Lars Eller and grinding winger Travis Moen.
Kostitsyn stopped his skid - 12 games without a goal, 10 games without a point - with a second-period goal, set up by Eller, that made it 3-1 for the Canadiens. Moen was a shot-blocking force on the penalty kill, and the No. 4 unit had a superb shift in the final minute when they hemmed Vancouver into its own zone and prevented goaltender Roberto Luongo from exiting his crease for an extra attacker.
Mikael Samuelsson, playing his 600th NHL game, scored Vancouver's other power-play goal, but it wasn't enough against a determined Montreal team that had vowed to increase its battle level against the league's best outfit. The Habs snapped a three-game losing skid, while winning for just the fifth time in their last 30 games in western Canada.