BOSTON — The Bruins would have beaten the Montreal Canadiens by a lopsided margin in Thursday night’s Round 2 opener had Carey Price not given the visiting team the best performance of his Stanley Cup playoff career.
The 26-year-old netminder saw nearly 100 shots come his way, 51 of which forced him to make a stop. He finished with 48 saves in just over 84 minutes as the Habs emerged victorious in Game 1 with a 4-3 victory in double overtime at TD Garden.
“It was a battle,” Price said after his fifth consecutive win of the postseason. “It was exactly what we were expecting and we just gutted it out. It was a hard fought game that could have gone either way.”
The key matchup in the series is in net, and Price decisively outplayed Boston’s Tuukka Rask in the first matchup. It proved to be the difference in the outcome after the two teams combined for 84 shots on goal and more than 25 quality scoring chances. Boston held a 98-58 shot attempt advantage overall, and an 89-47 edge at even strength.
“(Price) made the saves that he needed to win the game, and we had a lot of opportunities,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said after Game 1. “A lot of pucks that were laying around him, and we didn’t do a great job of making sure our sticks were heavy around their net. Their defensemen were picking our guys up and it seemed like it was a little bit too easy for them.”
Price had to bail out his team, specifically the Montreal defensemen, after many defensive-zone turnovers as the Bruins’ forecheck helped created consistent attacking zone pressure throughout the overtime periods. His save on Bruins center David Krejci was one of the finest of the playoffs, and it gave his team new life when the Bruins had begun to tilt the ice in their favor with a 14-6 shot advantage in the first OT session.
Only one of the three goals Price gave up was his fault. He was screened by Patrice Bergeron when Reilly Smith scored Boston’s first goal of the game early in the third period and had no chance of stopping Johnny Boychuk’s blast from the point that tied the score with 1:58 left in regulation because of heavy traffic in and around the crease.
The Canadiens need Price to be as good, or close to, what he was in Game 1 for them to beat the Bruins in a seven-game series because Boston eventually is going to capitalize on the Grade-A scoring chances and open nets it missed Thursday night.
That’s a lot to ask of a goaltender, but after leading Team Canada to the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics back in February, Price is playing with much more poise and confidence in high-pressure situations. He’s become the type of goaltender capable of stealing a game against a superior opponent, which instills a lot of confidence in the Habs.
“I have said it before and I’ll say it again, in my opinion (Price) is the best goaltender in the league,” Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said. “He showed that again today.”