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Road to 315: Carey Price passes Patrick Roy in fitting fashion

Price passed the Canadiens legend’s wins total earlier this season.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Boston Bruins Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, Carey Price won his 312th regular season game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. This is Part 7 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 goalie with the most wins in Canadiens history.

Check out Part 6 here.

Win #290: October 27, 2018

Montreal Canadiens 3, Boston Bruins 0

Over the years, I’ve heard different stories over the years about Patrick Roy‘s final game as a Canadien.

I heard that he met up with Detroit Red Wings goalie Mike Vernon on the day of the game at a diner across the street from the Forum and they had a conversation about the “unique climate” of Montreal — and Vernon convinced Roy that he needed to get out.

I’ve heard that Mario Tremblay was punishing Roy by leaving him out there for all those goals.

Regardless, it makes sense to want to look for answers beyond the normal when something abnormal occurs. How many other goalies in NHL history have requested a trade mid-game? Let alone two-time Stanley Cup champion, multi-Vezina-winning franchise goalies.

The truth is that athletes are human beings, not robots. They’re making decisions along an athletic axis, but sometimes those decisions get warped, corrupted and skewed by very human reactions. Emotion is a powerful disturber.

When he’s truly on his game, Carey Price resembles a perfectly calibrated goaltending robot, constantly shifting and adapting to the puck’s change in location without a single unnecessary move.

Roy used to talk to his goalposts, thanking them for helping him keep the puck out. Price? He never even seems to acknowledge the posts, unlike some of his more jittery counterparts who go to touch them every other play as a means of reassuring themselves about their positioning. But Price always seems to know exactly where he is; he orients himself in space without needing to reach out for anything.

But their personality differences aren’t the only reason the two resist easy comparison. Though Roy was only a few years retired when Price was drafted, the league Price stepped into in October of 2007 was radically different from the one Roy did in February of 1985. Lockouts, franchise relocations, rule changes, drafting trends, equipment innovations, and strategic advances had dramatically altered the landscape of the league in a number of different directions.

Perhaps most saliently, the pure butterfly technique that Roy had been at the forefront of popularizing in the late ‘80s was no longer the revolutionary, game-changing goaltending technique it once was. As forwards adapted, goalies had to keep pace; as sticks grew more high-tech, goalies had to become faster, smarter and more flexible. Highlight-reel saves and goals from Roy’s early days now seemed laughably quaint, relics of a bygone era when just about anyone could play in the world’s greatest hockey league.

Without even watching a second of grainy ‘80s footage, though, a glance at the stats would tell a story of its own. In a career that spanned 19 seasons, Roy only registered a .920 or greater save percentage in three of those — two of them coming in his final two seasons, playing for an Avalanche team stacked with future Hall-of-Famers in a league where scoring was dropping off the face of a cliff.

The year he won the Stanley Cup as a rookie, 1985-86, Roy’s regular season numbers were a distinctly unremarkable 3.36 goals-against average and a .875 save percentage. And yet, in that era, he was dominant. He won three Vezina Trophies from 1989 to 1992 without ever hitting a .915 save percentage on the season.

Price, meanwhile, posted a .927 save percentage in 2013-14 — a better number than Roy ever managed in his whole career — and wasn’t even in the top three Vezina vote-getters that year. It’s tempting, comparing their raw stats, to say it outright: Price is better than Roy ever was.

The main argument for Roy is one of hardware. Three Vezina trophies. Four Stanley Cups. An NHL-record three Conn Smythe trophies as playoffs MVP. Surely, that collection of precious metals speaks for itself — for his ability to step things up when it mattered.

But Price’s Canadiens and Roy’s were very different teams, to say nothing of the powerhouse Avalanche Roy left Montreal for. Between 1985-86 and 1994-95, Roy’s last full season in the bleu-blanc-rouge, the Canadiens were 10th in the league in aggregate goals for. Between 2007-08 and 2017-18, Price’s Canadiens were 20th.

Admittedly, the league expanded from 20 teams to 31 over that period, but the Canadiens vaulting from the top half to the bottom third of the league in terms of their goal scoring is hard to ignore.

As a goalie, how do you win a Stanley Cup when your team’s forwards wouldn’t even come close to making the playoffs?

Of course, those kinds of numbers probably won’t do much to convince the die-hard Roy backers of the impressiveness of Price’s regular season achievements. But they do present an interesting wrinkle to the narrative of Roy’s superiority, now that Price has passed him in the wins column.

For all his wins, though, Price was never much of a shutout goalie. Despite his otherworldly calm, he always seemed to manage to give one up in the dying minutes of games he otherwise had locked down, and for all his steely competitiveness, he’d never in a million years tell you it mattered so long as the team got the two points.

(Jaroslav Halak actually has three more career shutouts than Price, despite over 100 fewer starts.)

Despite the fact that he’s closing in on Jacques Plante’s franchise record of 314 NHL wins at a furious pace, with 43 shutouts, he’s actually fourth in team history in that category, behind Ken Dryden’s 46, Plante’s 58, and George Hainsworth’s essentially uncatchable 75.

But there’s something truly beautiful about a shutout, and seeing Carey Price nail one down against the hated Bruins to pass Roy on the all-time Canadiens win list was a genuinely special moment.

A lot of Price’s milestone wins have come in games where not much was at stake, against out-of-division opponents. Games early in the season, against teams like the Hurricanes, the Devils, the Flyers, the Penguins. And admittedly, late October is hardly crunch time for any team. But a 3-0 shutout win on a Saturday night against the Bruins is about as perfect an outcome as you can dream up for the guy they call Mr. Saturday Night.

After Brendan Gallagher opened the scoring about midway through the first period with a snipe from the hashmarks, Max Domi doubled the Canadiens’ lead less than two minutes later, converting a bouncing Artturi Lehkonen pass from behind the net from his knees on his second swing at the puck.

After the Bruins appeared to have scored just shy of eight minutes into the second, a coach’s challenge from Claude Julien correctly identified an offside violation, restoring the Canadien’s 2-0 lead, and Price kept the shutout bid going with a highlight-reel windmill save at the last second of the middle frame.

Jordie Benn sealed the victory with a late bank-shot into an empty net, and Price and the Canadiens managed to ice out the Bruins to preserve both the victory and the shutout, propelling Price into sole possession of second place, all-time, in Canadiens wins.

Carey Price Win Tracker:

Current Wins: 312

Earliest Price could tie Plante: March 2nd vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Earliest Price could pass Plante: March 5th @ Los Angeles Kings