Montreal Canadiens

Pekka Rinne on Shea Weber’s shot; ‘It just hurts’

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Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

By Jim Diamond

Heading into Tuesday night’s matchup against the visiting Montreal Canadiens, many Nashville Predators will be facing former Predators captain Shea Weber for the first time in their NHL careers.

When asked about it following Monday’s practice at Ford Ice Center, they were all looking forward to the new challenge.

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne has faced countless thousands of Weber shots in practice over the years. He was asked what sets Weber’s shot apart from other players who shoot the puck hard.

“It just hurts,” he said. “He’s a big body and he’s so strong. I guess shooting the puck is also about technique. He has all of those things. It does come hard. It is one of the better shots in the NHL, especially his one-timer. He’s still pretty accurate with it. It’s just so quick, so fast.”

Weber is the two-time defending champion of the NHL’s Hardest Shot Competition at the All-Star weekend’s skills competition. He won last year’s event in Nashville with a shot of 108.1 mph, which was just four-tenths of a mile per hour slower than his 2015 winner.

With eight power-play goals this season, Weber leads all NHL defensemen and is tied for second overall, one behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

As much as a handful as Weber is in his team’s offensive zone, he is equally difficult on opponents in Montreal’s defensive zone. Weber leads the Canadiens and ranks eighth in the league, averaging 26:02 of ice time per game.

Like Rinne, many of Nashville’s forwards have battled Weber in practice for years. With the intensity that Weber brings to the practice ice, his former teammates know that they are in for a long evening Tuesday.

“It’s going to be very different,” said Colin Wilson. “In today’s game, a lot of the accolades go to the real offensive defensemen and Webby, his defensive play is unparalleled. He’s unbelievable down there. He’s so strong. Even in practice, 3-on-3s, his strength is pretty incredible.”

Filip Forsberg has been on an offensive tear lately, posting five goals in his last six games. He knows that battling against Weber will be tough, but he is looking forward to seeing how he measures up against him.

“You always want to match yourself up against the best, and he’s definitely one of them out there,” Forsberg said.

Throughout his NHL career, no one has had a better view of the work Weber does in the defensive zone than Rinne.

“A player like him, there’s no other player like him in the league,” Rinne said. “The things that he brings; his strength, his ability to move guys and stuff like that, I don’t think there’s another guy like him.”

David Poile sent Weber to Montreal in exchange for P.K. Subban in a late June blockbuster trade. Poile spoke with the media following Monday’s practice. A large number of Montreal scribes were there to hear Poile’s thoughts.

“I see now where Shea is probably getting the recognition that he deserved,” Poile said. “We’re a little under the radar here in Nashville media wise, not today. Shea was, I think, in the top three for the Norris Trophy three times. I think he should have won it at least once and he didn’t. I think that in Montreal, with all due respect to Nashville, that he might have already won a Norris Trophy. And maybe this year in Montreal and getting all of the recognition that he is, maybe this will be the year that he wins the Norris Trophy.”

Muller fills Canadiens’ needs in ‘coming home’ to Montreal

By Heather Engel

BUFFALO – As an NHL player, Kirk Muller never got a taste of life as a free agent. The Canadiens made sure his first foray into the market, now as a coach, didn’t last long.

One day after it was reported he informed the St. Louis Blues he wouldn’t be returning as an assistant coach on Ken Hitchcock’s staff, Montreal announced Muller’s hiring as an associate coach under Michel Therrien.

“I had several teams call pretty quickly,” Muller revealed via conference call, while in St. Louis. “One thing that happened right away is I got a call from Michel. He had heard the news and wanted to call me and see if I had any interest in coming to Montreal and working with him. We had a really good, long chat and he really excited me about what was going on in Montreal.”

He joins a staff that remains unchanged from last season, save for the departure of consultant Craig Ramsay. There will be changes in the distribution of responsibilities, something Therrien says he’ll take care of next week. One thing the Canadiens’ bench boss did confirm, however, is that Muller will be in charge of the power play, a woefully inefficient element of Montreal’s game over the last several years.

Muller ran the power play in his first stint behind the Canadiens’ bench, a five-year span that saw the team rank first or second in four of those seasons (and 15th the other time). The Blues’ finished fourth and sixth in his two years in St. Louis.

“When the opportunity to bring in a guy like Kirk Muller presented itself, I spoke with (general manager) Marc (Bergevin), who called (Blues general manager) Doug Armstrong for permission, and I spoke to Kirk yesterday morning.” Therrien said. “After I spoke with him, I called Marc right away and told him to make sure to close the deal because he’s exactly what we need.”

He also fills a valuable and key role as a communicator, a go-to guy between player(s) and coach and vice versa. Former assistant coach Gerard Gallant served in that role in his two seasons on Therrien’s staff. Since his departure, however, from the outside it’s an area that appears to be lacking.

He’ll be working under his fourth head coach after standing alongside Guy Carbonneau, Bob Gainey and Jacques Martin from 2006 to 2011. He had minimal experience behind a bench during his first go, having served as head coach of the Queen University Golden Gaels in 2005-06, just two years out of retirement.

But in his years as an assistant in Montreal, the praise rolled in. First, there was Martin recognizing what he brought to the table and retaining him when Martin was hired in 2009. The following season, Muller was a hot head coaching commodity, leaving the Canadiens to guide the Nashville Predators’ AHL affiliate before the Carolina Hurricanes tabbed him as Paul Maurice’s replacement in November 2011.

“I am such a better coach right now than when I left Montreal,” Muller said. “There’s things now that I really believe in still in what I was doing (in Carolina) and there’s other things that I know where I made my mistakes. But I know where my mistakes where and what I learned and all that by coming to St. Louis.

“The knowledge of operating on a day-to-day basis and how a staff can operate on today’s hockey was what I really learned and had a great appreciation of how hard Hitch works,” he added. “That area is what I think has made me a better coach over the two years that I was here in St. Louis.”

There has been plenty of turnover in the five years since Muller left, both on the ice and in the front office. But there will also be plenty of familiarity in his return, with most of the team’s core and leadership group – including Carey Price, captain Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov – among those he has helped guide.

While the Canadiens moved quickly on Muller, they weren’t the only ones to jump at the opportunity to land his services. The 50-year-old admitted he was surprised to hear from “a few teams” so soon after the news broke.

With his past experience and self-acknowledged growth, Muller’s hiring raised the question of his future behind an NHL bench as a head coach, potentially even in Montreal. The Kingston, Ont., native, who opened his conference call with “Bonjour mes amis. Je suis très content de revenir avec les Canadiens.” made it clear that he’s not thinking of anything beyond his current role.

“That’s not really my goal right now. My goal really is to be a part of an organization like Montreal, work with Michel,” he said. “I’ve had the experience of being an assistant coach, coming here with this organization from St. Louis, and I’m very comfortable right now with not being a head coach. There’s a lot of responsibility as well. You do see today that a lot of successful staff, it’s not about one guy anymore, it’s so demanding.”

Much beloved during his time in a Canadiens sweater, the adoration from fans remains strong more than 20 years after he was traded. It’s a feeling that remains mutual.

“Everyone knows I love Montreal,” he noted with a laugh. “I’ve had great experiences with the organization. It is topnotch, first-class from Geoff Molson down. I’m just really excited that I have an opportunity that they want me back for a third time.

“I love the city. It’s like coming home.”

A decade later, Carey Price proving Canadiens right

By Heather Engel

“MVP! MVP! MVP!”

The chants rained down in the Bell Centre, showering Carey Price following his 43rd win of the season – a season over the course of which the Canadiens goaltender steadily rose to the top of the NHL’s goaltending statistics. And on this night, Price climbed up to the top perch in franchise’s illustrious history for regular season wins.

It was a triumph that earned him a shaving cream pie in the face, courtesy of Alexei Emelin (with some assistance from Andrei Markov).

A win in the Habs’ regular season finale capped off his 2014-15 record at 44-16-6 in 66 games.

“I’m very, very proud of it, obviously,” Price said after his record-breaking night. “I’ve got to thank my teammates for the way they’ve played all season long. This isn’t possible without those guys in front of me.”

Throughout the season, the superlatives were as routine as the saves. The words, the praise came from everyone, everywhere.

“I don’t know what else we can say about him,” Tomas Plekanec said following Price’s career-high ninth shutout and 40th win of the season against the San Jose Sharks in late March.

“He’s the best.”

The regular season numbers proved as much, and on June 24, he capped off a remarkable campaign by hauling in the hardware at the NHL Awards. Already a confirmed co-winner of the William M. Jennings Trophy  – with Chicago’s Corey Crawford – heading into the league’s annual show, Price added the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award to his collection. It marked recognition from every possible angle, with each one selected by a different group of voters (Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, general managers, and NHL players, respectively).

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On the path of life, there are inevitable stumbles along the way. Sometimes, all it takes is a quick spread of your arms to regain your balance. Other times, your feet give out and it feels like there are weights on them hindering your ability to get back up.

In eight seasons with the Canadiens, Price has just about been through it all. Ups and downs aplenty, he could have given up. Instead, he grew up.

It was the luck of the draw – literally – that saw the Anahim Lake, B.C., native land in the Canadiens’ lap. With the entirety of the 2004-05 season lost to a lockout, a 30-team lottery determined the draft order in July 2005. One by one, teams learned their fate. It wasn’t until the countdown reached fifth overall that the Canadiens’ logo was pulled from the envelope. At that point, it was the franchise’s first top-five pick since 1984 when they selected Petr Svoboda in the same spot.

It was a curious pick to some at the time, with goaltender Jose Theodore in his prime at age 29 and just three years removed from taking home the Vezina and Hart Trophies.

A highly-touted draft pick, Price arrived in Montreal in the fall of 2007, armed with a World Junior Championship gold medal, a Calder Cup title and AHL playoff MVP trophy. Expectation was that he would continue his apprenticeship with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Now nearly a decade after vice president of player personnel and director of amateur scouting Trevor Timmins announced his name, Price has become more than a franchise cornerstone. He has emerged as a leader.

In Game 7 against the Boston Bruins in 2014, it was he who spoke up between the second and third periods. And while sidelined with injury during the Eastern Conference Final, Price took it upon himself to mentor rookie netminder Dustin Tokarski.

When Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien announced the team’s four alternate captains at the start of the 2014-15 season, it was noted that Price, while letter-less, was a part of that leadership group and would be involved in all meetings on that front.

Five years ago, many wondered if there was a future for him in Montreal. Jaroslav Halak had supplanted him as the starter and spurred the Canadiens’ run to the Eastern Conference Final. Price sat on the end of the bench, starting one game and coming in for mop-up duty in three others.

When the players packed up for the summer, Price admitted his slide was tough to take. In the end, it was part of a season of learning and one he acknowledged couldn’t have happened in a better place.

“He’s made tremendous progress in the year and a half that I’ve been there,” then-head coach Jacques Martin said in 2010-11, a day after Price recorded a 30-save, 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers for his seventh shutout of the season. “I think maturity-wise he’s improved; his work ethic has improved; his fitness level is better.

“But probably the biggest change, I think, is maybe his intensity in the game. I think being kind of a laidback individual, he’s been a little more conscious that he needs to be a little more intense.”

That season ended as a career year for Price and remained as such until this year.

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In his early years, Price had a tendency to glance in frustration at his defencemen after a bad goal, regardless of who was at fault. Hal Gill helped rectify that situation and, in the end, was impressed by the resolve of his young teammate.

“After everyone turned on him [in 2009-10] and when Halak was the end all, be all, the best thing ever, I said to Carey, ‘You must be excited to get out of here,’ and he said, ‘No, I really want to make it work.’,” Gill told The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs back in 2012. “He wanted to stay after all that? I don’t know, he was stronger than I would have been. I’d have been, ‘I’m getting out of here, I can’t wait to go somewhere else.’ He was awesome, I liked playing for him.”

These days, the only thing Price throws in his teammates’ direction is praise after every win.

“The guys in front of me did a good job of keeping shots to the outside,” is a staple of the netminder’s post-game scrums. And when the Canadiens cleaned out their lockers for the summer, it was he who shouldered the blame for the team’s elimination.

“Everyone knows it wasn’t true, but it’s a sign of accountability that he shows, and that’s part of being a leader,” Brendan Gallagher said of Price’s claim.

Added Max Pacioretty: “I think deep down he knows that he did what he could to help us win but we didn’t score enough goals. I think it says a lot about his personality but he’s far from the problem.”

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The Canadiens’ core knows full well what their goaltender can do. Veterans Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec have been there since day one. Pacioretty and Subban, among several others, arrived shortly after Price.

For defenseman Jeff Petry, the move from Edmonton to Montreal was like nothing he’d ever known before in his NHL career. Not only would he still need his hockey gear in late April but there was structure and stability: behind the bench, in the front office, and especially between the pipes.

“We only saw [Price] twice a year in Edmonton, but everyone had said he’s a goalie that can win you games solo. He proved that he’s the best goalie, I think, in the league, in the world,” Petry said. “His personality makes everything that much better. He doesn’t have a huge ego or anything like that. He’s a really down to earth guy and, on and off the ice, he’s a guy that you want to be around.”

He is the Habs’ leader, their unnamed, non-lettered captain. And while grateful and appreciative of all the praise and hardware bestowed upon him as he etched his name into the record books, Price would no doubt like to see it alongside other Canadiens greats on the biggest trophy of them all.

No hard feelings as Canadiens, Subban reach eight-year deal ahead of arbitration award

By Heather Engel

The Montreal Canadiens…without P.K. Subban? It was a question running through many minds following Friday’s arbitration hearing, before coming to a screeching halt on Saturday afternoon.

With a one-year arbitration award looming, Subban and the Canadiens reached an agreement on an eight-year deal worth a reported $72 million, an annual average value of $9 million per season. The contract is the richest and longest in team history, surpassing Carey Price’s six-year, $39 million pact signed in the summer of 2012.

“It’s not easy to negotiate an eight-year deal like this and ultimately that’s what both sides have wanted,” Subban explained on a conference call from Toronto. “Obviously [Friday], going through the arbitration hearing, it’s a part of the process, it’s a part of learning, part of the game, and it’s part of the CBA. We followed every step in terms of the process and that was a part of it but I’ve always felt strongly about being a Montreal Canadien. I never thought that I would end up anywhere else.”

Common expectation was that the two sides would reach a deal before stepping foot into the room with the arbitrator. Then 9 a.m. hit and there was nothing. The hearing got under way and the hours ticked by until all parties emerged from the room for good early in the afternoon.

General manager Marc Bergevin declined comment as did Don Meehan, Subban’s agent. The defenseman spoke but was measured. And while negotiations on a new contract could continue up until the arbitrator’s ruling was announced, Twitter was abuzz with speculation on what his future with Montreal might hold should the one-year award be the end result.

As much as talk as there is about the negativity associated with the process, Subban never felt it.

“When you hear different things about your game and critiques and so on and so forth, I think that stuff can be positive as well. I think a lot of people looked at the arbitration hearing as something that’s negative and I didn’t really see it that way,” he said. “I think the only thing that might be unsettling is that sometimes you just want to get a deal done.

“I have more respect for Marc Bergevin and Geoff Molson than any other time in my career since I’ve been in Montreal in terms of the way they conducted themselves. They’ve treated me very well, both on and off the ice, since I’ve been here,” added Subban, acknowledging that the input of Molson, owner and team president, throughout the process was “monumental”.

In his third off-season at the helm, Bergevin was facing his toughest moment yet – both from a hockey standpoint and in the public eye. Many felt it should never have gotten to the hearing after the GM held firm on a bridge contract two seasons ago. Subban, after all, had followed that up with a Norris Trophy in 2013 and a career year on the ice – including a team-leading 14 points in the playoffs – this past season.

“A lot of people that know Marc Bergevin know the type of guy he is; he cares a lot about his players and I know he cares a lot about me. He would never put a player in a position that would hurt him or hurt this team and this organization,” the blue-liner noted. “He’s been great for this team moving forward, he’s made some great decisions for this team in the best interest of this team, and a lot of people have to lay off of him now.

“I really don’t want to hear those negative comments towards those guys because they’ve done a great job and they’ve worked so hard to try and get this deal done.”

Lars Eller looking to build off strong playoffs with new long-term deal

By Heather Engel

The 2013-14 campaign was a tale of two seasons for Lars Eller. Now armed with a new four-year, $14 million contract, he’s looking to stick with the one that helped him earn it.

After putting up just 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 77 games – a drop-off from the career-high 30 recorded in the lockout-shortened season – Eller rebounded in a big way in the playoffs. His 13 points in 17 games led all Canadiens forwards in the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Final and was just one shy of P.K. Subban’s team-high total. He also finished in a four-way tie for second among the club’s post-season goal-scorers with five goals.

“Of course it’s been a very mixed season for me performance-wise and certainly my playoffs probably helped my situation, there’s no doubt about that. But this goes longer than just one playoffs. It’s a relationship,” the center said on a conference call from Toronto’s Pearson Airport, on his way back to his native Denmark. “I’ve been here for four years now and (general manager) Marc (Bergevin) and the whole management knows me. We got to know each other well; they know what they have in me and I know what I have in them.”

Acquired in exchange for goaltender Jaroslav Halak in June 2010, Eller has shown flashes of a strong offensive game over the years but hasn’t been able to deliver on a regular basis. That he’s bounced around between the wing and his natural center spot – where he’s looked most comfortable – and has at times been saddled with linemates not known for their offense likely hasn’t helped.

Still, the 25-year-old knows it’s on him to take his game to the next level.

“I think the number one thing for me is consistency. I know when I’m on top of my game, there’s not much I want to change,” said Eller, who recorded just seven points (three goals, four assists) from Jan. 2 through April 5. “I want to improve in every area but I think most of all, consistency. I still think there’s something to gain in my offensive game and that’s probably where I can improve the most.”

His deal matches the one signed by teammate David Desharnais 16 months earlier. It also comes with new expectations for a player whose production potential has yet to be determined. Eller, though, isn’t worried about the added spotlight.

“A lot of times, your salary, your expectations and pressure go hand in hand, and I’ve seen that here in Montreal. But I put a lot of pressure on myself, too,” he said. “I think it also speaks to how much the organization believes in me and has faith in me. It’s really nice to know that they showed me that faith and now it’s up to me to go out and play the best hockey I can.”

Thursday’s agreement allowed Eller and the Canadiens to avoid Friday’s scheduled arbitration hearing. The process can be tough, with the potential for a player’s confidence to take a rather large hit.

“Of course it goes through your mind and once you file, you know it’s a possibility so you just have to be realistic with that, knowing that it could go that way. If I wasn’t fine with that then I wouldn’t have filed,” he noted. “But that being said, a longer term deal was something both sides were working towards through this whole process so going to arbitration was really more of a last resort if all other options failed. It’s not something we wanted to do but it’s something if we had to, we would have.”

He becomes the latest member of the Canadiens’ growing core to ink a long-term deal under Bergevin’s tenure, joining Desharnais, Alexei Emelin (four years), Max Pacioretty and Carey Price (both six years).

“We are very pleased to have agreed upon a long term agreement with Lars Eller. He is an important part of our group of young veterans,” Bergevin said in a statement. “He has a tremendous work ethic and a great attitude. He is the type of player you can rely on for his play at both ends of the rink.

“Lars can play big minutes against the opponents’ top players and still be an offensive threat. We are confident he will reach his full potential and become an impact player who will compete at a high level for many years to come.”

The deal leaves one name on Bergevin’s to-do list: Subban, who also filed for arbitration. A hefty raise looms for the star blue-liner, whose hearing is slated for Aug. 1, the final day of the arbitration period.

Bergevin opens door to young leaders, balanced defense on first day of free agency


By Heather Engel

It is aptly dubbed ‘free agent frenzy’. Dollars are flying, players are moving, everything is happening. And this year, somewhat unexpectedly, in the thick of it all was Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin.

In came center Manny Malhotra and defenseman Tom Gilbert. Out went right-winger – and captain – Brian Gionta and defenseman Josh Gorges, both to Buffalo. Mike Weaver re-signed. All of this occurred in the span of an hour or so, a frenetic pace for anyone trying to keep up with the Canadiens moves as well as the rest of the NHL action via Twitter.

Word that Gorges, one of the most respected players in the locker room and by management, was potentially on the move broke on Saturday and left many, including the blue-liner himself, shocked. And while there was a mutual interest in Gionta returning, speculation grew that he could move on, especially with greater term than the Canadiens might offer likely available on the market.

“Gio and Josh are great people. They’ve been great for the Montreal Canadiens,” Bergevin said on Tuesday after he was done for the day. “We have to make tough decisions. It’s part of my job. Sometimes you make decisions that aren’t popular, but I’m not here to be popular. I’m here to make decisions.

“We felt by doing that we changed the look of our team a bit but it’s time for the young people to take a bigger role. There’s always a rotation and that’s the crossroads we’re at now. We have two young defensemen who are left shots that at some point need a place to play. That’s just the way the business is.”

The Canadiens’ run to the Eastern Conference Final sent a message to the GM that not only are rearguards Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Greg Pateryn pushing but also his team’s young leaders were ready to take the next step. It’s a group that includes the likes of P.K. Subban, Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, among others. He acknowledged the core at his post-mortem following their elimination and again on this first day of free agency.

“I think our young core gained a lot of experience in the playoffs. At some point, you have to give these players a chance to take on a more important role within the organization,” Bergevin noted.

“We’re trying to move forward; we’re trying to get better. That’s my job – to make the Montreal Canadiens better,” he added. “It’s not only adding players. We’re looking two, three years down the road.”

Gilbert, puck-mover, and Weaver are both right-handed shots. With Subban, that gives Montreal three righties and allows Alexei Emelin to return to the left side, balancing out the back end.

The moves also provided the Canadiens with some flexibility under the cap. Weaver and Gilbert will combine for just $650,000 more on the cap next season than Gorges’ $3.9 million, a deal with still four seasons remaining. Malhotra will earn $850,000 on his one-year deal. That leaves Bergevin with more than $15 million in cap space at his disposal for the upcoming campaign. More than half of that will be earmarked for P.K. Subban, with still enough room for Lars Eller and potentially one other lower cost signing, if he feels a need for one.

There is room among Montreal’s top-nine forwards but the Canadiens’ GM isn’t too concerned about who fills the spot.

“I feel comfortable if we don’t get anybody else that one of [our AHL] kids will be able to move in that spot,” he said.

One vacancy that will be discussed at length is the captaincy. Bergevin said it’s too early to think about the decision and stayed mum on whether the players or management will ultimately decide when the time comes.

Budaj the ‘ultimate teammate’ as Canadiens back-up

By Heather Engel

Be ready.

Those are the words NHL back-up goaltenders essentially live by, starts sometimes coming weeks apart while also being counted upon to step up in relief at a moment’s notice.

Peter Budaj has been just that for the Canadiens since joining the team as a free agent ahead of the 2011-12 season. With Carey Price firmly entrenched as the No. 1, the Slovak stopper has embraced his supporting role.

But, like any back-up, when the starter goes down, expectation is the No. 2 becomes the No. 1 in the interim. It’s what happened earlier in the season when Price was sidelined following the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. And while the results weren’t the best, he was without question the de facto starter.

So when Canadiens coach Michel Therrien opted to go with 24-year-old rookie Dustin Tokarski – who had never before played an NHL playoff game – over Budaj in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final, one could have understood the veteran having a rough time with the decision.

“We did talk to Peter [Monday] morning and he really reacted as a pro. He’s a good teammate,” Therrien said after the loss. “He understood our decision. We let him know the reason why. For sure for him it could be tough.”

That reason was Tokarski’s previous big-game pedigree, having won a Memorial Cup (2008), World Junior Championship gold medal (2009) and Calder Cup (2012). At 31, Budaj is still in search of his first post-season victory in eight appearances at the professional level – seven in the NHL, one in the AHL.

He does, however, boast 296 games of NHL regular season experience under his belt, a factor that many figured would tip the scales in his favor.

“He was awesome. He’s a professional,” Tokarski said. “He plays for the logo on the front, and everybody in here is. … He supported me all day.”

That Budaj, a former starter with the Colorado Avalanche, took it as well as he did wasn’t the least bit surprising to those that have spent at least seven months of the year with him the past few seasons.

“He’s the ultimate teammate. The ultimate teammate. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a teammate like him,” defenseman Josh Gorges said. “He comes to work every single day with a smile on his face – and his job isn’t easy. All year, to be a backup, you’ll never hear him complain. He’s always here for the team to be successful and for the team to be doing well, and that’s all that he cares about.

“He’s just a great man and a great teammate.”

Price’s status for Game 2 a mystery

By Heather Engel

Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, Carmen Sandiego’s whereabouts and the Caramilk secret have nothing on this around here.

No, in Montreal, the biggest mystery is the status of Canadiens goaltender Carey Price for Game 2 on Monday night.

Taken down in a crease collision with New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider in the second period of Game 1, Price didn’t participate in Montreal’s optional practice on Sunday. He did, however, briefly hit the ice with goalie coach Stéphane Waite an hour before practice.

“It was a therapy day (for Carey). We’ll see if he’s able to play tomorrow’s game,” head coach Michel Therrien said following his team’s short session on the ice.

Pressed further on the issue, Therrien maintained his stance.

“We’ll see. I can’t tell you that right now,” he said.

Price finished the second period despite appearing to hurt his right leg. He was replaced by back-up Peter Budaj to start the third, the Canadiens trailing 4-1 at that point. Therrien claimed the goaltending change had nothing to do with a potential injury to his starter but rather as a protective measure with the Canadiens not looking very sharp in front of him.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Price takes his option to forgo Monday’s morning skate, as he has regularly done on game-days this post-season. That would leave the pre-game warm-up as the earliest indication of whether or not he’ll play.

Canadiens left-winger Brandon Prust wasn’t too pleased with Kreider after the incident and made sure to let him know with a stick between the legs, a cross-check and a slash. Prust also picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and a 10-minute misconduct.

“He went skates-first right into his leg,” Prust, a teammate of Kreider’s during the Rangers’ 2012 playoff run. “We know how to slide, we know how to fall. We’re in the NHL; we’re taught how to fall when we’re five years old and how to get back up.

“I don’t think he’s a dirty player but he did nothing to slow up or avoid him, at all.”

And it wasn’t the first incident of its type the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Kreider has been involved in this spring, he noted in reference to a collision with Marc-André Fleury in Game 6 of the Rangers’ series against the Penguins.

Therrien agreed that it didn’t appear to be intentional but that perhaps more effort could have been put in, in trying to avoid Price.

Not surprisingly, the Rangers saw things differently.

“I’ve never seen a hockey player that can score an important goal on a breakaway and would rather run into a goalie or figure out a way to hit a goalie. I mean, he’s trying to score a goal,” Brad Richards said. “If you’ve watched him, he’s a pretty fast, big player. When he gets going, it’s hard to stop sometimes.”

While Price’s status was as clear as mud on Sunday afternoon, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t plan on preparing any differently as his team aims to grab a 2-0 series lead.

“I’m sure Price is going to be there, so we’re getting ready for him,” he said.

One situation looking a little clearer for Montreal is the impending return of forward Alex Galchenyuk. Sidelined since suffering a knee injury on April 9 in Chicago, the 20-year-old was cleared for contact on Friday. Therrien confirmed that day he would get a shot in the lineup but noted they wanted to be sure “he’s in the best shape physically, mentally” for the playoffs.

“He’s doing really good (in his recovery),” said Therrien on Sunday.

So, could he return for Game 2?

“It’s always a possibility,” he said.