TAMPA — One of the world’s elite goaltenders is poised to make the most critical save of his NHL career.
Montreal’s 26-year-old Carey Price enters the opening-round playoff series against the Lightning eager to salvage his reputation.
Even Price’s dazzling performance at Sochi, Russia, where he allowed only three goals on 103 shots while leading Team Canada to Olympic gold two months ago, hasn’t silenced the skeptics who question Price’s nerves in the postseason.
Price is 9-17 in the NHL playoffs, and he hasn’t won a postseason series since his rookie year in 2007-08. Montreal’s status as the only Canadian club still standing only ramps up the pressure.
“You’re probably looking at the premier goalie in the league in Carey Price,’’ Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “Everything starts with him.’’
Price ended Montreal’s regular season Saturday with his sixth shutout, making 41 saves against the Rangers in a 1-0 victory. He finished his seventh NHL season ranked fourth in save percentage (.927) and sixth in wins (34), but those are regular-season numbers.
He knows hockey’s real season begins with Game 1 tonight.
“We’re a little bit more relaxed with our puck management because we know we’ve got such a good goaltender behind us,’’ Montreal winger Max Pacioretty said. “He’s been an unbelievable goalie in the past, but I feel Carey’s got a whole other level this year. The Olympics were a great experience for him and it’s going to help him out when we get to the playoffs.’’
While Price can win over his critics with a stellar playoff run, another postseason disappointment won’t play well for a proud franchise seeking its 25th Stanley Cup, but first since 1993.
“Carey Price is playing at another level this year,’’ Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. “He’s been a true professional, a true leader, and I’m really pleased with the way he’s playing.’’