It’s a sequence that will have put hearts in mouths in Montreal.
Just over three minutes into the second period of the Eastern Conference final, speedy New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider chipped the puck around onrushing Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin and went barreling toward the Habs’ net.
As Emelin tried a stick-check from his right and Montreal forward Dale Weise closed in from the left, Kreider abruptly fell backward, his skates lifted off the ice, and he slammed feet-first into Price’s right leg, which appeared to bend awkwardly as the net came off its moorings.
The 26-year-old goalie, who has arguably been the best netminder in the league to this point in the playoffs, spread out on the ice in obvious pain – he missed eight games earlier this year because of what is believed to be right knee tendinitis – but got up under his own steam.
As trainers came out to see him, he flexed his leg several times and ultimately decided to carry on.
Price would finish the period – giving up a pair of late goals – and started the third on the bench.
That he was able to take his seat rather than spend the third in the medical room is surely an encouraging sign.
After the game, Price wasn’t available to talk about the incident, but coach Michel Therrien passed it off as a simple mishap.
“I think it was accidental, honestly. The fact (Price) didn’t play in the third period was more to protect him than anything, because we were not sharp in front of him,” he said.
When Therrien was asked specifically whether his Olympic champion goalie will be at his post on Monday, he wouldn’t confirm it.
At the same time, he did say lifting him from the game “had nothing to do” with the collision.
So there’s no firm evidence that Price won’t be available for game two, but should he not be able to start – or if he is forced to play in pain – it will place the Habs at a serious disadvantage.
Backup Peter Budaj has shown this season that he’s a palatable plan B, but he's no Price.
On Saturday the Slovak gave up three goals in relief – in fairness, this one wasn’t on him.
After the game Kreider, a 23-year-old Boston College product, described the collision from his point of view.
“So Nash did a really good job of chipping the puck out, I thought Emelin was coming across kind of hard, so I chipped it ahead, and it wasn’t sitting for me. I had my head down, trying to settle the puck, I think I got a shot – no, I put it wide, right? Somehow I lost my footing,” he said, “I thought maybe somebody pressured me from behind, I seem to have an issue standing on my feet on those. Then I went in skates-first, I just had too much momentum, I couldn’t really avoid him. But yeah, it didn’t feel too good for me either.”
What did feel good for the Rangers was breaking their longstanding hoodoo at the Bell Centre.
The two goals they scored in a 1:52 span in the first period – the first from Martin St. Louis, who will bury his mother on Sunday in nearby Laval, Que., and the second from Mats Zuccarello – equaled their total output from the last five games they’ve played against Montreal.
“We’re really not thinking about that anymore. We’re obviously going to play a few games here and we've gotta go out, focus and do our job. You can't think about the surroundings,” said former Habs draft pick Ryan McDonagh, who matched a team record with four points by a defenceman (a goal and three assists). “We do a good job on the bench of staying focused when the crowd gets into it and don't fall into a trap of going outside our game.”
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist carried a 4-11 record and .887 save percentage in his last 15 games against Montreal into Saturday’s conference final opener with the Canadiens, and a career save percentage in the Bell Centre of .876.