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Road to 315: Carey Price passes Ken Dryden for third in team history

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Unlike Roy and Theodore, Price was Dryden’s spiritual heir.

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs

Recently, Carey Price won his 311th regular season game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. This is Part 6 of a 10-part series looking back at Price’s career through the lens of various milestone victories he’s recorded. Each iteration will be posted the day after one of the final 10 victories it takes him to pass Jacques Plante as the winningest goalie in Canadiens history.

Check out Part 5 here.

Win #259: February 25, 2017
Montreal Canadiens 3, Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Standing in the Montreal Canadiens crease, a tall, cool-headed goalie of incredible talent adjusted his catching glove during a break in the action in a game against the hated Toronto Maple Leafs. Thus far in his career, he’s won hundreds of NHL games, and dozens more in the playoffs. He’s a legend, his unique playing style emulated by goalies in rinks the world over, his name chanted and adored by children and adults of all levels of fandom. I’m talking, of course, about Ken Dryden. I mean, Carey Price. I mean… well, I’m talking about both of them.

If Price entered the NHL in José Theodore’s shadow, with the rich mythos of Patrick Roy’s success draped over his shoulders like a cape, it was perhaps Ken Dryden’s legacy that would fit him best. Price never had Theodore’s hometown charm or Roy’s hothead flair.

For the bulk of his career — ever since a too-honest interview early in his career caused a backlash — he’s been operating on autopilot when it comes to off-ice behaviour; every soundbite a series of platitudes, deflections of praise, and vague, yet unrelenting positivity. Getting him to express so much as a neutral opinion about a teammate would be like pulling teeth, never mind a critical one. He certainly wasn’t going to cause a Richard Riot any time soon.

In that sense, he mirrored Dryden’s placid, aloof style. The one that got him a reputation for standing and watching the game while resting on the end of his goalie stick. Dryden could probably see a little bit of that same calm in Price; in 2015, with the Canadiens down two games to none against the rival Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round and criticism of the Anahim Lake, BC native mounting from all sides in the Montreal pressure-cooker, Dryden penned an article in defense of the Habs’ goalie for the Wall Street Journal.

He wasn’t shy about praising Price — at times, his description of the Canadiens star approaching poetry.

“Put all 60 of the NHL’s goalies together on the same ice, watch them move and make a few saves, and 59 look like accomplished variations of each other,” he wrote. “Then there’s Price.”

The Hall of Famer wasn’t wrong. And for a position that itself is a haven for misfits and oddballs, being a hockey goalie was too normal of a career trajectory for Dryden; after winning the Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy in 1973, he held out for the entirety of the 1973-74 season, unhappy with the contract the Canadiens had offered him, and completed his law degree while working for a legal firm instead.

It would be hard, if not impossible to imagine the endlessly self-effacing Price pulling a similar stunt, but perhaps Dryden simply had a soft spot for those who stood out from the rest, one way or another. It’s fitting, too, that Price passed Dryden against the Maple Leafs; after a ten-year career during which he played only for Montreal, Dryden went on to become president of the Habs’ blue-and-white nemesis in the summer of 1997.

Win number 259, which put Price ahead of Dryden for good, came during the distinctly mixed bag 2016-17 season. After dominating the league in 2014-15 and starting off 2015-16 red hot, Price went down with what ultimately turned out to be a season-ending injury after playing in just 12 games. The following year, with Shea Weber now filling P.K. Subban’s skates on the blue line, Price struggled to recapture that world-beating form, playing through a particularly poor stretch from mid-December to mid-February that saw him post an 8-10-3 record to go with a 3.07 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage and saw his GAA and save percentage slip from second among starters down to 12th and 10th, respectively.

That wintry cold streak culminated with the firing of Michel Therrien on Valentine’s Day 2017. As if by magic, Price’s numbers jumped back to respectability; he’d go 13-7-0 with a 1.84 GAA and .934 save percentage to close out the season under Claude Julien, earning himself third place in the Vezina voting race for that year.

It was a rejuvenated Price who took to the crease to face Toronto in late February.

The game against the Leafs was his second shot at passing Dryden; the Habs had dropped a home game against the New York Islanders two nights prior. Price wasn’t interested in letting this shot at a milestone drag on the way his elusive 100th win once had.

After a first-period goal — a James van Riemsdyk deflection — put the Leafs up by one heading into the first intermission, the Canadiens responded with the game’s next two, a trademark Max Pacioretty wrister from mid-range and some fancy stickwork in the slot from Alex Galchenyuk, respectively. Price held the fort en route to stopping 32 of 34, but the Leafs tied the game on a sneaky Auston Matthews tip early in the third.

Matthews tried to replicate his magic again in the first shift of overtime; a clean breakaway from centre ice gave him a perfect chance to end things, but a strong backcheck from Galchenyuk meant the Leafs’ star winger didn’t have an easy go of it; his short-side shot caught the shaft of Price’s stick and deflected harmlessly into the corner.

Seconds later, Tomas Plekanec dragged the puck down the left side of the ice and saucered a perfect area pass to a streaking Andrew Shaw, who took advantage of Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen’s misjudged poke-check attempt to deposit the puck into a yawning cage. 3-2, Habs.

Just like that, Price had moved into third place all-time on the Canadiens win list.

“Price makes every save look easy,” Dryden had written two years earlier, in his Wall Street Journal article. “On a shot to the top corner, even if a goalie’s catching glove is nearly in position, almost every goalie almost every time, at the puck’s impact, windmills his glove up and around to make sure that what is routine looks spectacular. Price barely moves. In not diving and flailing, he says to his opponents, You think that was a great save? It wasn’t. Not even close. I have so much more in me, you might as well give up.”

Carey Price Win Tracker:

Current Wins: 311

Earliest Price could tie Plante: February 26th vs. Detroit Red Wings

Earliest Price could pass Plante: March 1st vs. New York Rangers