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The Habs needed Carey Price to be their best player against the Penguins, and he was

The netminder made 39 saves in the victory over Pittsburgh to give Habs the series lead.

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

There’s a reason why many of Carey Price’s peers consider him to be among the best, if not the best, in the game. Saturday night’s victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins may go down as a textbook reason why.

Perhaps you didn’t see it coming, but the Montreal Canadiens were victorious in the opening game of their play-in series against the Penguins Saturday night, thanks in large part to their starting goaltender who made 39 saves on 41 shots.

Price put in arguably his best effort of the season Saturday night, which included an 18-save first period against a trigger-happy Penguins squad. Pittsburgh held a shot and possession advantage on the Habs and could have buried the seemingly outmatched Habs in the opening frame if it weren’t for the $10-million-dollar man.

Considering how the season has gone, some fans wouldn’t have been surprised, and were likely already resigned, to their “Pens in 3” predictions. This is the same Habs team that lost all its games to the league-worst Detroit Red Wings, after all. But despite Pittsburgh’s early dominance, it wasn’t to be.

“Carey was huge and gave us a chance to come back and adjust ourselves,” Habs head coach Claude Julien said post-game. “The first period is where he allowed us to stay in the game.”

Price held the fort in the first period just long enough to let the Canadiens score on the team’s third shot (it won’t be Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s prettiest goal, but it counted). The video above features two of Evgeni Malkin’s eight shots on goal, and the Russian couldn’t get any past a netminder who turns 33 in two weeks’ time.

Here’s another stop on Malkin, just for good measure.

This isn’t to pick on the Russian superstar, but the Canadiens have their hands full with Sidney Crosby enough as it is. Needless to say (but why not let it be said?), Price stymying Malkin on numerous occasions played a huge role in the victory.

Price did allow two goals in the contest, including one from Crosby. Both of them came in the second period and the Penguins erased a 2-0 advantage. The two goals, however, could be blamed more on defensive miscues than Price’s ineptitude.

More importantly, the goaltender continued to look steady in the net the whole way through. He and his defence were able to kill penalties, with their opponents only able to muster one goal on seven chances with an extra man.

The B.C. native also came up huge in the third period when tasked with stopping Conor Sheary on a breakaway that was soon followed up by a penalty shot.

Sheary couldn’t even hit the net on the ensuing penalty shot, seeing nothing but blocker where he was looking to shoot, which only made Price’s night easier. Of course, Price could breathe a sigh of relief once Jeff Petry’s overtime winner beat Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray and secured a series-opening victory.

If Montreal wants to finish the job against the Pittsburgh, similarly to their last playoff meeting a decade ago, goaltending will have to make the difference.

For one night, at least, Price showed he was the better goalie and proved the peers who’ve voted for him in players’ association polls many a time right.