Carey Price entered the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia with a reputation as a goaltender who could not win the big game. He returned home today with a gold medal, and was picked as the top goaltender in the tournament by the directorate.
Since winning gold at the World Junior Hockey Championships and the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League at the age of 19, Price has not put up impressive numbers in playoff situations.
Price’s first taste of the NHL postseason was in 2008, his rookie season with the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal was surprisingly the Eastern Conference Champions that year and would squeak by the Boston Bruins in the opening round. Price would then allow 15 goals in the four games he started in round two against the Philadelphia Flyers. He was pulled in favor of Jaroslav Halak in game three, and Halak got the call in game four.
The Canadiens entered the 2009 playoffs in complete disarray, and would not win a game. The year was supposed to be a great one for the team, as they were coming off their most successful regular season in years in 2007-08 and would be celebrating the organization’s centennial season. Things started well but by the time the playoffs came around, the Habs were lucky to squeeze in as the eighth seed, and Price would surrender 16 goals in the four game sweep.
Carey would not get a chance in the 2010 playoffs, as Jaro Halak carried the team to the Conference Finals. Price would re-emerge as the starter in 2011, and though he played exceptionally well, the team would lose in the first round. The fact that he played a great series, and was only narrowly outplayed by Tim Thomas, the Vezina and Conn Smythe winner from that season, losing in overtime of the seventh game of the series was not good enough for fans in Montreal. This city will never be satisfied by a team that fails to play its way out of the opening round.
Price’s most recent pressure packed stage prior to the Olympics was in the NHL playoffs last season. The Habs finished second in the Eastern Conference but would lose in ugly fashion to the Ottawa Senators in five games. Price was hurt late in game four, but with a team incapable of defending in front of him, the series was over before he went down.
Price’s career playoff record of 9-17 was pointed out by many people before the Olympics began, pundits who did not think Carey had the makeup of a champion.
Price faced 103 shots in Sochi, and stopped 100 of them. He posted a sensational save percentage of .972 and a goals against average of 0.59. It makes it fairly easy on a team to win, when their goaltender only allows a goal every other game.
Some people may point out that Price had a lot of help in front of him on such a great team, making his job much easier. While it is very true that Canada had a spectacular team and a deep group of defensemen, they were hardly an overwhelming favorite at the beginning of this tournament.
Canada was in a group of four teams that appeared to have an equal shot at winning gold. Russia, The United States and Sweden all boasted impressive rosters full of the best hockey players in the world. What tilted the scales in favor of Canada was they had the best goaltending in the tournament.
When Canada faced off against the teams that finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the Olympic Games, Price allowed a total of one goal in the three games combined. This includes back to back shutouts against Sweden and the USA in the semi-final and Gold Medal Game and a 2-1 overtime victory against Finland in the preliminary round.
With a team in front of him that measures up to its opponent, Price made the difference and put his team over the top. What this tells us is that Price is quite capable of winning big games, he just can’t do it all on his own. But then again, when has a goaltender won a Stanley Cup all by himself?
Carey Price can be the difference in a playoff series, but he can’t be alone in doing it. The pressure is not on Price to improve his playoff record with the Montreal Canadiens. No, the pressure is on Marc Bergevin to put a team in front of him that can compete with the rest of the National Hockey League.
Then you let the best goaltender in the world tip the scales in your favor, and you start to win the big games.