After the first game of the Montreal-New York series, Canadien Coach Michel Therrien said of the Chris Kreider/Carey Price collision: “I think it was accidental, honestly. The fact that he didn’t play in the third period, that was more to protect him than anything, because we were not sharp in front of him.” Don’t worry about Carey Price, basically. Worry about everybody else.
A day later, the Canadiens organization announced that Price would not play for the remainder of the series; instead, they would end up playing AHL call-up Dustin Tokarski in place of Peter Budaj, though Therrien insisted that they had confidence in both players. He also changed his tune significantly regarding Kreider, saying, “Looking at the incident, you know, it’s a reckless play. That’s the truth. And Kreider, this is not the first time he’s going at goalies. But our group faced a lot of adversity through the course of the season, and we respond and we’ve got the attitude to respond really well.”
Now, “reckless” is not the same as “dirty,” but it’s hard to mistake the changed tone of Therrien’s language. Part of that may be that Therrien really did believe the team would have Price back on the ice in time for tonight’s match-up; part of it may be that upon review of the collision itself, he simply changed his mind regarding the incident with Kreider. Given that Kreider has, throughout the entirety of the 2014 playoffs, been something of a time bomb on the ice (note that I’m saying “time bomb” but what I mean is “absolute crazy person”), it’s not unreasonable to think that Therrien might have only later noticed what he interpreted as a pattern.
It’s also not unreasonable to note that the Habs have found themselves in a bit of a conundrum. Putting aside the fact that Carey Price has, without doubt, been one of (if not the) best player on that team, the Canadiens have just emerged from a long, hard series against Boston, in which the Bruins absolutely drew no quarter. This is not to say that the Rangers breezed through their series with Pittsburgh; back-to-back shutouts suggest differently. But it was a different kind of difficult, and the Rangers didn’t emerge from that particular battle limping and licking at wounds.
After Saturday’s loss, Therrien told reporters that “we were not ready mentally. Physically we were not ready to compete,” after the Boston series. The Habs have to contend not only with a team who is coming off a momentous turnaround, winning the series after being down 3-1, but they have to contend with a team whose style of play is the exact opposite of Boston. Where the Bruins are willing to Hulksmash their way to the goal–if they have to–the Rangers are more likely to sneak through a crack in the wall (excepting, apparently, Chris Kreider).
In many ways, the 2014 playoffs in the east have felt like the Battle of the Brick Walls, with Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, and Carey Price each dragging their teams from round to round. Personally, I think we saw more moments of greatness from Montreal skaters than we’ve seen from New York; the win over Pittsburgh can be attributed almost entirely to Lundqvist’s absolute refusal to let pucks into the net, whereas overcoming Boston required as much effort from the Canadiens’ top lines as it did Price’s heroic effort between the pipes.
The Canadiens lost 3-1 tonight, which is notably better than losing 7-2 but it still isn’t winning any Stanley Cups. Their play tonight showed that they are trying, as quickly as possible, to figure out how to win without their secret weapon. To figure out how to play without the luxury of knowing that they have a guy like Price in the net.
Therrien changed his tune between Saturday and Monday, painting the picture of a team who was prepared to rise above adversity (rather than a team that was still gathering the pieces of itself after a long previous competition). He told reporters, “We’ve got a lot of character. That is the number one reason why we’re here. We were capable to prove it in the past, and again, we’ve got that challenge to show again that we’ve got tons of character.”
But what is that character, exactly? Are they the scrappy underdogs or the heavy-hitters? Are they the risk-takers they were allowed to be with Price in the net, or do they play a more careful east-west game?
Who are the Habs without Carey Price?