Carey Price: the Man vs. the Myth

“THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS ARE AFRAID OF CAREY PRICE.”

They downplayed the headline as much as possible, but that was the simplified interpretation once the report came out. It was May 2020, shortly before the NHL unveiled its 24-team play-in tournament to finish the 2019-20 season. With teams ranked by points percentage in each conference under the proposed format, the Penguins, owning the seventh-best record in the NHL, were matched with the Montreal Canadiens, owning the 24th-best record in the NHL. The league hadn’t finalized the length of the play-in series yet, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on a radio show that the Penguins players wanted nothing to do with a best-of-3 format.

“Pittsburgh looked at its matchup and said, ‘Two out of three against Carey Price is not fair,’ ” Friedman said at the time.

The Penguins worked to publicly brush off the idea of a Price fear factor in the ensuing days, with GM Jim Rutherford insisting his team was ready to play “wherever and against whoever,” but there’s no undoing what was reported. A team with a two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie in Matt Murray was hell-bent on avoiding a best-of-3 format because of Price. The Penguins were right to complain given they, more than any other team, got jobbed by the 24-team setup. But it was tough to interpret their sentiment as anything but fright.

And what happened? Price snatched away a playoff series in a shortened format, just as the Penguins feared. The 5-on-5 shot margin was almost even for the series, but Pittsburgh held a decided edge in scoring chances, and it didn’t matter. Price posted a .947 save percentage in Montreal’s 3-1 series victory, punctuated by a shutout in the deciding game, while the Penguins wavered in net between Murray and platoon mate Tristan Jarry. Price took over the series, even if, in typical praise-deflecting fashion, he played the experience off as something Montreal accomplished as one united and focused group.

“We were definitely all motivated going into this series,” Price said on a Zoom conference call after the series ended. “Nobody was giving us a prayer to beat them. That definitely played a factor into it. I thought we all took it with a grain of salt and went out there and just tried to prove everybody wrong.”

“He just played really well,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in a Zoom call. “We know he’s a great goalie. I don’t think it was a matter of trying to play around him, but he did what we expected him to do, and he gave his team a chance to win.”

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