They could end up being the most fraught five minutes of this hockey season, from a Montreal perspective anyway.
Hardly anyone was around to witness them first-hand, but 300 notional seconds are more than enough time for a city and an entire fan base to contemplate playoff mortality.
An hour before the Canadiens were scheduled to take the ice for an optional practice, goaltender Carey Price made an impromptu practice rink appearance to test out his wonky right leg.
The good news: He wore full equipment.
The not-so-good: After a few minutes of lateral movement drills under the watchful eye of position coach Stéphane Waite, he left the ice and didn’t return.
So will he start Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers on Monday after being steamrolled by forward Chris Kreider – and later pulled – in Game 1?
“I can’t tell you that right now,” coach Michel Therrien said.
When pressed, he said “I’m just as anxious as you to know.”
Now that probably isn’t, strictly speaking, a true statement.
Surely Therrien has a clearer idea of the state of Price’s right knee and ankle, which were twisted every which way in the second-period collision with Kreider, than simple press room hacks who haven’t seen the medical reports.
It appears even Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has better information.
“I’m sure Price is going to be there, so we’re getting ready for him,” he said.
Perhaps this is all an elaborate ritual of gamesmanship – playoff Kabuki – but the uncertainty over Price’s status does highlight his importance to the Habs and their hopes of not only recovering from a 7-2 pasting in Game 1, but progressing to the Stanley Cup final.
The equation is simple for Montreal: No Price equals no chance (ask the Tampa Bay Lightning what it’s like to do battle without your No. 1).
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, of course, it’s possible Price – who missed eight games earlier this season with what is believed to be right knee tendinitis – is well enough to play, but at something less than full bore.
So let’s amend that earlier equation: A partially-effective Price equals vanishingly small chance.
For all the point-scoring and defending exploits of defenceman P.K. Subban, Price is the Canadiens’ most important player.
“We need to do a better job of protecting him,” said Habs winger Brendan Gallagher, who has been known to bump into opposing goalies on occasion.
Price’s teammates profess to have no idea as to his status.
“I’m ready if I have to go, but nobody told me anything,” said backup Peter Budaj, who gave up three power-play goals in a period of relief on Saturday.
The Habs were also plainly displeased with Kreider and his minimalist approach to goalie avoidance.
It was pointed out that the massive winger – he’s 6-foot-3, 230 pounds – was penalized for running over Marc-André Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the last round (the Ranger counterargument is he was pushed into him); it’s also a matter of record that he took out Ottawa’s Craig Anderson last year, giving him an ankle sprain (the New York version is he was tripped).
Replays suggest Montreal defenceman Alexei Emelin’s stick clipped his right shin as he steamed in on net; after shooting wide he fell oddly, spinning clockwise slightly before sliding feet-first into Price.
“Everybody says it’s accidental, but it’s accidental on purpose. He did nothing to really avoid him. We’re in the NHL. We know how to fall, how to not put our skates first when we fall,” said Habs winger Brandon Prust, a one-time teammate of Kreider’s in New York. “He did the same thing against Fleury in the last series. I mean, he’s not doing anything to avoid him. It’s not totally intentional, but he doesn’t do anything to lighten it up a bit.”
It’s a grey area – every team has players whose job it is to make goalies nervous – which lends itself to intense lobbying and talking points on both sides.
Therrien echoed Prust’s statement that Kreider did nothing to avoid slamming into Price; Vigneault sounded a similar tone to Brad Richards in saying in a 2-0 game the priority is scoring, not becoming a human bowling ball.
“I’ve never seen a hockey player that can score an important goal on a breakaway and would rather run into a goalie or figure out a way to hit a goalie ... he’s a pretty fast, big player. When he gets going, it’s hard to stop sometimes,” Richards said.
Lest anyone think that the Habs are likely to take matters into their own hands, Prust was explicit in saying Montreal has no intention of barrelling into Henrik Lundqvist.
“We’re not going to go out and run their goalie just because they ran ours. We’ve got to keep our cool – obviously I lost my cool a little bit but it happens with a 5-1 game,” said Prust, who was hit with a double-minor and a misconduct for hacking and slashing at Kreider in the third.
The other thing about l’affaire Kreider is it’s a distraction from the fact that even if Price is perfectly healthy, Montreal will have to do much better than the all-systems failure in game one.
Therrien said he saw no positives to take from the tape, but the Habs’ second-period push, when they drew within a goal and pressed hard for an equalizer before giving up two in the final minute of the frame, could have made it a contest.
“It was a slap in the face, at home,” said fourth-liner Dale Weise. “It could be exactly what we needed.”