TORONTO — For 60 minutes Carey Price looked like the Vezina Trophy winner that dominated the NHL and won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2015. Unfortunately for him and the Montreal Canadiens, Wednesday's game went to overtime.
Price made 23 saves in a 3-2 OT loss in Toronto on Tuesday, providing a defensive backbone for a young Canadiens lineup facing a Maple Leafs squad considered a Stanley Cup favourite. It was a return to form for the 31-year-old goaltender after a lingering lower-body injury and a concussion derailed him last season.
"I felt pretty good right out of warmups," said Price. "Spent the whole day preparing for it and felt pretty good."
Price's injury struggles last year meant he played only 46 games with a 16-26-7 record, a career-worst 3.11 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.
Those numbers were a far cry from his 2016-17 season when he was 37-20, with a 2.23 GAA and a .923 save percentage, and even worse compared to his MVP season in 2014-15 when he went 44-16-6 with a sterling 1.96 GAA and a .933 save percentage.
On Wednesday night, Price made a handful of point-blank saves, including sliding across the crease to get his stick on a snapshot from Maple Leafs veteran Patrick Marleau, and stopping Kasperi Kapanen's wild stab at a rebound in the dying seconds of the third to force overtime.
"He made a lot of diving saves where he was getting his leg out and it looks like it's going in the back of the net and Carey sticks out his leg or his arm and he makes the save," said Toronto superstar Auston Matthews.
"That's why he's one of the best goalies."
Montreal head coach Claude Julien was not surprised by Price's performance at all.
"I think everybody saw the big saves he's made," said Julien. "He was really good for us tonight."
Price was quick to praise his Canadiens teammates who smothered the Leafs defensively. The third period was especially strong for Montreal as it outshot Toronto 15-7.
"We used that speed, especially on the forecheck, taking time and space away," said Price. "I thought our support was great all over the ice. Timing is a big part of speed. I thought we were working pretty well as a unit tonight."
Julien went with a younger lineup, making defenceman Karl Alzner and centre Tomas Plekanec healthy scratches. That ended Alzner's consecutive-games streak at 622, fourth among active players. But it does mean that Plekanec, who has played in 998 NHL games, could reach the 1,000 milestone in Montreal.
The Habs next play in Pittsburgh on Saturday and then return home to face the Kings on Oct. 11.
"They're never easy decisions," Julien said before the game. "I think it's pretty obvious that there's two things happening there to those players, but I think at the end of the day we're all mandated to do what's best for the team first."
Rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi made his NHL debut, becoming the first player born in the year 2000 to play in a regular-season game.
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press