For a guy whose trademark is calm and composure, he sometimes gets awfully ruffled.
To wit: Thursday, in the opening game of the 2013 playoffs, when giving up a decidedly foul-smelling tying goal.
But in the face of intense scrutiny, crushing expectation and a dash of physical pain, Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price reverted to type 24 hours later.
Outplayed by Ottawa counterpart Craig Anderson in the opening game of the first-round series between the Senators and Habs, Price delivered a performance more in keeping with his idiom.
In so doing, he played superbly and led his team to a 3-1 triumph.
“We just stuck to it, we got a few bounces . . . I didn’t let in any soft goals, and that helps,” Price said afterward.
Not even a pair of half-missing front teeth – courtesy of teammate Jarred Tinordi’s errant skate – could wobble him.
When he suffered the mishap, 4:40 into the second period, he picked himself up after play was stopped and placidly skated over to the bench to hand the chipped shards to a trainer at the Montreal bench.
Keep calm and Carey on, as it were.
“First teeth I’ve ever lost in a game . . . it’s pretty sensitive right now,” said Price, who didn’t have the look after the game of someone unduly bothered by pain.
To his coach, it even looked like the incident sharpened his focus.
“It almost looked like it spurred him on rather than shaking him up,” Habs coach Michel Therrien observed after the game.
It’s been a hard series for goalies’ smiles – Ottawa’s Craig Anderson lost a tooth in game one courtesy of a Rene Bourque shot off his mask – but at this rate they’d be happy to lose a few more if it meant coming out on the winning end.
For if Anderson was clearly the better of the two goalies in the initial encounter, saving 48 of 50 shots in a 4-2 victory, Price outplayed him by a substantial margin, rebounding from a couple of dubious goals in splendid fashion.
Price is a polarizing figure by dint of his job – but if the critics were waiting to pounce on him for faltering in a second straight game, he confounded them.
It’s probably true that he won’t win undying and unconditional admiration until he leads the Habs to a Stanley Cup; performances like these aren’t remotely enough to make that a likelihood, but they will keep the wolves from the door for a few days.
“Playoff hockey, and you've got the goalie losing teeth. That’s great,” said winger Ryan White. “(Price) is our best player, and when he plays like that we’re really hard to beat.”
By the time Tinordi’s skate connected with his goalie’s mask, the Habs were up 2-0 and Price was already 15 saves to the good (in all, he would stop 29 of 30 shots).
Though Ottawa waited nearly seven minutes before registering its first official shot, the 25-year-old Price was instrumental in the Habs’ penalty-killing efforts, steadying what will have been jangling nerves with a trio of first period stops, including one on former teammate Guillaume Latendresse, who was left unattended in the slot.
He also had some nervy moments – including an instance where he looked around for the puck after trapping a peach of a wrist shot from Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad.
Price held his team in the contest long enough for the Habs to capitalize on a bit of good fortune three minutes into the second period.
Sens defenceman Erik Karlsson, skating back to his own end, inexplicably tried to flip a pass through the forechecking White, who knocked it down skilfully.
As he readied to tuck it past Anderson, the puck rolled off his stick – and skittered between the goalie’s legs into the net.
Karlsson was left to gaze skyward.
“I really didn’t expect him to throw a backhand out to the middle, but I’ll take it,” said White, a hard-nosed player who contributed only one goal in 26 regular season games.
“I actually had a coach growing up who would come in on a breakaway, let the puck run through and then knock the goalie’s stick out of the way. That’s pretty much what happened,” he laughed. “I batted it down and was just trying to go to the net, we both swiped at it and I got a good bounce.”
Less than a minute later, the Bell Center roared once more, as rookie Alex Galchenyuk gathered a deflected puck at the side of the Ottawa net and made an astute seeing-eye pass through a thicket of legs. It landed in front of feisty winger Brendan Gallagher, who batted it into the net for his second goals in as many games.
Ottawa would score before the mid-way point of the period – Milan Michalek claimed the goal after tipping Chris Phillips’ point shot – but the Habs put the game out of reach in the 19th minute when Michael Ryder whacked a puck past Anderson.
“You’ve got to find a way to stop the momentum when it's not going your way,” Anderson said afterward. “We’ve got to put this one behind us.”
Added captain Daniel Alfredsson: “We gave them a couple of easy ones tonight, I thought.”
“We had some chances there in the second which could have made the difference,” he added.
Though the goals mostly came from Montreal in the second, that doesn’t mean Price wasn’t busy.
Before Michalek’s marker, he was jousting with Ottawa rookie Pierre-Gabriel Pageau, who ended up spending the bulk of the evening on the Sens’ top line, in front of the net.
And moments before Ryder’s goal, Price made a highlight-reel stop with his left toe, robbing Ottawa’s Sergei Gonchar on a back-door play.
Montreal was short-handed at the time – Price also stopped Alfredsson’s one-timer – and when the penalty ended, the big goalie was called upon to stifle a pair of clear-cut chances involving Zibanejad.
“They played harder than we did for most of the game,” Ottawa coach Paul MacLean summed up, later adding “We’ve got to come and play (game three on Sunday in Ottawa), it’s still the team that gets to four first.”
The subplot to this game – residual ill feelings over the game one injury that Habs centre Lars Eller suffered when he was crunched by Ottawa’s Eric Gryba, who was suspended for two games as a result – monopolized the build-up.
The Habs were lifted by a text message from Eller that said he was feeling better – he suffered facial fractures, a concussion and broken teeth – and, White said “that he wanted us to go and ge the W.”
For all the veiled talk of retribution and pre-game ad hominem attacks, these are two teams that seemed determined to play hockey.
That’s not to say there weren’t any red-blooded hits – Bourque lowered the boom on Ottawa’s Kyle Turris in the early going, Ottawa’s Colin Greening smoked Brandon Prust in the middle period, White sent Marc Methot flying in the late going.
The game ended in a vigorous scrum after Alfredsson – a target all night, along with Turris – took exception to some rough-housing on the part of Montreal’s Andrei Markov.
The two were unlikely combatants, but that was the tale of the game.
“It’s the playoffs,” shrugged Montreal’s P.K. Subban.
Uncharacteristically, the Habs were the ones upping the physical stakes, out-hitting Ottawa by a two-to-one margin.
It was a statement of intent from a team that needed a bounce-back game – one that they played without captain Brian Gionta and leading scorer Max Pacioretty, both hurt.
With the way Price played, it’s fair to say initial fears of a quick capitulation have been averted, replaced by cries of “Ca-rey, Ca-rey, Ca-rey”.
With a report from Roy MacGregor