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Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price makes a save during the team's practice Tuesday, April 12, 2011 in Brossard, Que. The Canadiens play the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday, April 14, 2011 in Boston..THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Ryan Remiorz

That odd sound you heard at midday Tuesday was the collective intake of breath from horrified Montreal Canadiens fans.

The cause for their consternation: Goaltender Carey Price massaging his left thigh at the end of practice before dropping to the ice to stretch gingerly and at length.

An injury? To The Franchise? Now?

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"Come on, you know better than that," a bemused Price said a few minutes later in the Canadiens' dressing room, "I'm fine."

A relief then, but if the Habs are to make any kind of playoff run this year, it will require their star netminder to be a good deal better than fine.

Price, 23, who racked up a league-high 38 regular-season wins, is 5-11 in the NHL post-season has lost his last eight playoff starts - including a perfunctory four-game sweep to Boston in 2008-09 - giving up an average of more than four goals, and stopping only 86.5 per cent of opposing shots

When last he played against the Habs' most-hated rivals in the playoffs, Price was booed in his own rink and raised his arms Patrick Roy style in frustration (presumably the same bunch jeered him in this past pre-season against, yes, Boston - they have since been made to eat their taunts).

"I've definitely learned a lot over this past four years, I think a lot of lessons I've learned I can use going into these playoffs: Stay calmer, and not let everybody get to me," Price said.

But in a counter-intuitive way, Boston isn't a bad place to start the playoffs for Price - he's only won once in the playoffs there, but recent precedent has shown that goaltending is seldom the key factor between these teams, who have combined for 26 goals in their last three meetings.

"[Boston]is definitely a fun place to play, it's going to be really wild. I'm sure when we roll in to the Garden they may try to flip over the bus or something," he said.

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Price has a 7-7-1 career record at the TD Banknorth Garden, whereas his opponent and friend (and, briefly this season, sparring partner) Tim Thomas is 6-10-3 at the Bell Centre.

They may be charter members of the NHL goaltending elite, the fact is neither man can seem to win in the other guy's building (this season both have averaged more than three goals against a game and have save percentages far below their season average).

Thomas, the prohibitive Vezina trophy favourite, hasn't exactly set the world on fire in the playoffs either - he is 10-8 lifetime - and spent last year's post-season on the bench in favour of youngster Tukka Rask.

And if Price has a 1-4 career playoff record in Boston, Thomas's slate in Montreal is a pedestrian 3-3. Both have given up 16 post-season goals in the other's rink (Price in five games, Thomas in six).

"For some peculiar reason - it's weird, you go into one rink and things seem to go differently. But at the same time, I've had a lot of really good games in Boston too, so you never know. It's just the way sports are, I guess," Price said.

It is an oft-repeated refrain, but Price is also a different goalie and different man from 2009, several teammates point to the way he accepted his role as back-up in last year's playoffs as a watershed in his maturation.

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And this year, his progression has been remarkable.

"Just seeing Marty [Brodeur]all those years, you could notice little things, different movements in practice, and seeing Pricer the other day, you just see that focus," said centre Scott Gomez, who played with Brodeur in New Jersey. "He's getting everything, I blame him for the year I had because my confidence got taken away [in practice]"

It's to the point where Price's conversations with his father and confidant Jerry, himself a former goalie, have grown sparser as they year has gone on.

He is under no illusions it will be easy in Boston ("oh yeah, I don't doubt it," he said when asked if he expects the Bruins to crash his crease).

But there is a strategy to minimize Boston's size advantage.

"We're definitely aware of their big bodies in front, we've got a plan to combat that - I can't tell you what it is, obviously," he laughed.

While Price is surely looking to exorcize the demons of playoffs past in the opening game of the series, he's also mindful of the bigger picture: The playoffs are about seizing momentum and carrying it through the rounds.

"Hopefully we can find that early and go on a good run," he said.

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