Carey Price will not see another game against the New York Rangers this season.
A somber Michel Therrien stumbled into his press conference after practice in Brossard to announce Price will miss the entirety of Round 3.
It is suspected the Montreal Canadiens’ starting goaltender suffered a knee injury when Rangers forward Chris Kreider barreled into him skates first in the second period of Game 1 Saturday afternoon. Price finished out the second period, but was later benched for the remainder of the game. Peter Budaj came in to replace Price, allowing three goals on eight shots in the final frame.
For the Canadiens, this is the worst news that could have come out of Game 1. Price has arguably been Montreal’s best player in these playoffs and one of the main reasons the team was able to get past a very difficult opponent in the Boston Bruins in the second round.
But here we are, just hours before the second game of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the “Habs” will be forced to go the rest of this series not with their star goaltender, but with a guy who has “Ned Flanders” painted on his mask.
That’s right. Budaj is expected to get the nod for Game 2 Monday night at the Bell Centre. The 31-year-old backup goaltender has an abysmal .843 save percentage and 5.13 goals against average in seven career playoff games.
Now, this is a small sample size, and it is not fair to judge a goaltender based on minimal statistics. However, it is obvious Budaj is no Price. He is not the type of goaltender that will win games single-handedly on a consistent basis. He is not a goaltender a team can feel completely confident in front of. He is not a goaltender who can win a Stanley Cup; not without a stacked team, anyway.
Some of the criticism Budaj has faced is somewhat unfair, however. For the most part, the Canadiens’ backup has been an excellent addition since signing with Montreal in 2011. He has accepted his role with open arms. His positive attitude and willingness to step up and play when called upon are assets many teams wish they had in their backup goaltenders.
Even though Budaj’s statistics have been pretty modest in the three seasons he’s been with Montreal, the Canadiens have played fairly well in front of him, going 23-16-9 when the 31-year-old is between the pipes. The Habs have proven in the past they can win with Budaj in goal. In fact, the team shut the Rangers out with Budaj as the starter on October 28, 2013.
However, the postseason is a whole new ballgame.
The intensity is ramped up, everything happens a lot more quickly out there and goaltenders face a lot more traffic from the opposition. In other words, Budaj can expect to face many quality scoring chances from a speedy and emotionally-driven Rangers squad.
The biggest question mark surrounding Budaj’s ability to rise to the occasion in these playoffs is his game shape.
When Budaj was asked to step in for Price after the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, he was not all that impressive. As the workload increased, Budaj’s awareness decreased. The Slovakian struggled to make plays outside his crease and his timing on relatively easy shots was well off the mark. His game shape proved costly for Montreal in early March, and it may be déjà vu in these playoffs.
The importance of goaltending in the postseason cannot be overemphasized. A goalie can single-handedly steal a game and carry a team to a Stanley Cup Championship. But a netminder can also be detrimental to a team’s playoff run. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, that may very well be the case for them in Round 3.