When the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins open the next chapter in their bitter rivalry tomorrow evening, everyone will be looking at two players, netminders Tim Thomas and Carey Price. Both teams will want to move on from the furor surrounding Zdeno Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty a month ago. Instead, the focus will be on both team’s goaltenders, who have been pivotal to their success this season.
Thomas has been the best-performing goaltender in the league throughout the regular season. Not only does the Bruins stopper top the league with a record save percentage of .938, but he also led the way with a scintillating 2.00 goals-against average. Boston’s defense is one of the strongest in the NHL, with only the Vancouver Canucks and the Nashville Predators conceding fewer goals this season. Thomas is given a huge boost with his blue-liners, but ultimately he will be the one to push his team through the playoffs.
On the other side of the ice, Carey Price has never made his mark on the NHL playoffs. Despite making his name in the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs with the 2007 Championship-winning Hamilton Bulldogs, Price has struggled at the NHL level. Price has only won 5 out of his 19 career NHL playoff games, has never had a playoff shutout, and hasn’t registered a win in the post-season since 2008. But Price has looked far different this season, finally emerging as the star netminder Montreal has long been awaiting him to become, and he is more than capable of matching Thomas save-for-save. Indeed, don’t expect Price and Thomas to drop the gloves as they did in the 8-6 brawl in February. Instead, the two goaltenders will do battle on the stat board.
Last year, Montreal stunned both the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. Jaroslav Halak was the Canadiens’ hero, making a whopping 562 saves in 18 games. Halak has since moved on to St Louis, leaving all of the pressure on Price’s shoulders. Although Price wasn’t heavily involved in Montreal’s success last season, he understands the importance it has on this year’s campaign.
“I think we definitely learned some things as a team, especially in that series against Washington. Being down and able to come back, I think a lot of guys in this locker room learnt not to count themselves out, and I think we got down with that and played with no fear,” said Price.
The Canadiens are going to need something stronger than confidence to oust their divisional rivals. Despite winning the regular season series 4-2, the last time the Habs visited Boston they were blown back to Montreal with a 7-0 thumping.
Carey Price has the opportunity to repeat Halak’s heroics from last season, but in order for him to do so, Montreal must be perfect defensively. Without Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, many young faces have made up the Canadiens’ defense of late, and Price will need PK Subban and Hal Gill to bring all they have learned since October.
When the puck drops on Thursday night, there is no telling which goaltender will come out on top. Both have good reasons to feel confident, with Thomas’ stats and Price’s consistency having suited up 70 times this season.
The Bruins have a back-up plan if things don’t go so well for Thomas. Tuukka Rask has played 29 times this season, and will surely take charge between the pipes for Boston on a regular basis once Thomas moves on.
Montreal, on the other hand, is seriously lacking in the depth department. Alex Auld has put in some impressive performances this season, but Jacques Martin has overplayed Carey Price. The 23-year-old has only missed 12 games this season, with Auld having a grand total of 4 NHL playoff games during his career.
While Thomas has nothing to prove following a stellar career he hasn’t won the Stanley Cup, the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner has his best chance to lift the cup this season, with Price to be his first obstacle.