Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Things have gone from bad to worse for the Montreal Canadiens at the start of the Eastern Conference finals.
Montreal was slammed 7-2 by the visiting New York Rangers in Game 1 on Saturday, but bigger problems than one blowout loss were about to hit the Habs.
The Canadiens tried to downplay an injury to star goaltender Carey Price at first, but on Monday morning -- several hours before the start of Game 2 in Montreal -- the truth finally won out. Habs head coach Michel Therrien was forced to reveal his No. 1 option in net wouldn't only be missing Game 2, but also would be out for the remainder of the East finals due to his lower-body injury.
Combined with Saturday's terrible showing against a Rangers team which appeared to be faster and sharper in all aspects of the game, the Price injury does not inspire confidence in Montreal going forward to say the least.
New York jumped all over the Habs in the opener, rolling four lines at a Montreal team and overwhelming the Canadiens with speed and execution. The Rangers also saw their own star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist outplay Price. It's not crazy to think New York's advantage in net could be more pronounced with Price gone for the entirety of this series.
The Canadiens had many issues to fix heading into Game 2, and the loss of their star netminder only further complicates things. Of course, Therrien says his club is resilient enough to overcome the loss of Price. Whether he actually believes that to be the case is another story.
"We've lost our best player, but we've faced adversity this year already," Therrien said.
The play in which Price was injured has sparked controversy, prompting a debate on how better to protect goaltenders from charging skaters. Fittingly, New York forward Chris Kreider, who victimized Montreal throughout Game 1 with his rare combination of size and speed, was the player who collided into Price in the second period on Saturday, causing the injury.
Kreider is listed at 6-foot-3, 226 pounds and is one of the fastest players in the league. He used his explosive skill set to break in alone on Price and wound up losing control and slamming into the Montreal netminder. After the collision, Price writhed on the ice for several seconds before getting up and staying in the game for the remainder of the second period. However, backup Peter Budaj came out for the third period, prompting speculation about how bad Price had been hurt. Therrien initially said the move to pull Price was more about team performance than injury, but, obviously, he wasn't telling the whole story.
Although a few Montreal players slashed at Kreider as he closed in on Price, it does appear he simply lost control on his own. Therrien and some of his players took exception to the hit, and although nobody called it intentional, it doesn't mean Montreal is letting Kreider off the hook.
"Whether it's on purpose or accidental, he ran him pretty hard," said physical Montreal forward Brandon Prust. "Everybody thinks it was accidental, but we call it accidentally on purpose."
Therrien remarked, "Let's put it this way, he didn't put much effort to avoid the contact."
Of course, the collision looks different depending on which bench you saw it from. For the Rangers, Kreider was simply doing his job when he went hard at the net in search of a goal. Montreal believes he initially was trying to score, but when that wasn't going to happen, he chose to do nothing to soften the impact of his fall.
"He did nothing to really avoid him," Prust added. "We're in the NHL. We know how to fall, how to not put our skates first when we fall."
It's been said before how the only real way to keep players from charging the net and crashing into goaltenders with reckless abandon is to anchor the nets into the ice. It could put the fear of injury into the skater's mind and make them think twice about charging the net. The rule change could work, but the second a player like Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos broke his leg on an unforgiving post, we'd have people wanting to change it back.
In light of Price's injury, there are a few things to keep an eye on in Monday's Game 2. Montreal may attempt to exact vengeance directly on Kreider, or the Canadiens could take a few runs at Lundqvist. It's going to be up to the on-ice officials to make sure things don't get out of hand.
One would assume Budaj to be the obvious starter in Game 2, but Therrien wasn't interested in revealing his net plans for Monday's tilt. Although Budaj played in 24 games for Montreal during the regular season compared to Dustin Tokarski's three appearances, it may be the latter goalie in net at the start of Game 2.
"I already know my decision. I know where I'm going," Therrien said. "You'll see tonight."
Whoever winds up in net at the start of Game 2, it's important for Montreal's skaters to show they can keep up with the Rangers. Team speed is the Canadiens' best weapon, but it didn't seem like an advantage at all in the opener.
If Montreal doesn't show up ready to skate on Monday, even a miraculous return to health for Price wouldn't make a difference. And if the Canadiens show up focused more on revenge than matching the Rangers' speed and intensity, it may already be too late for Montreal.