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Road to 315: Could Carey Price be the one to take over from Jaroslav Halak?

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Price began his fourth NHL season with big skates to fill.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers - Game One Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Recently, Carey Price won his 307th regular season game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. This is Part 2 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 after one of the final 10 victories it takes him to pass Jacques Plante as the winningest goalie in Canadiens history.

Check out Part 1 here.

Win #61: October 9, 2010

Montreal Canadiens 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

It’s easy to forget now, in the wake of the Olympic gold, the World Cup, the Vezina, the Hart, the Pearson, and the Jennings, but Pierre Gauthier’s decision to trade Jaroslav Halak and bet the farm on Carey Price in the summer of 2010 was, well, shocking.

Imagine if Marc Bergevin had traded P.K. Subban for a couple of prospects in the summer of 2014, a month or so after Subban had dummied the hated Boston Bruins in the second round. It was a jaw-dropping deal, and the Canadiens organization hasn’t really seen a trade remotely like it since.

With Halak’s larger-than-life heroics in backstopping the plucky eighth-place Canadiens through Eastern Conference juggernauts Washington and Pittsburgh to a five-game loss in a third-round matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers still fresh in the city’s mind, trading the 25-year-old Slovak tender wasn’t just unexpected, it also ran counter to what basically every fan in town wanted to hear, from the casual ones to the hardcore aficionados. It was the kind of trade so noteworthy that federal politicians felt the need to weigh in:

And that’s not to say that Lars Eller wasn’t a good return for Halak — the hard-working Danish center was a highly touted prospect on an entry-level deal and proved to be a valuable middle-six forward for Montreal for the next six years, while Halak was on to his third NHL team less than four seasons later. But the emotional impact of the trade really rested on the head-scratching decision to send Halak packing so soon after he’d become a household name.

But it was a very shrewd hockey move, one of a type that Gauthier’s replacement, Marc Bergevin, has been incredibly reluctant to use. By betting on the unproven Price and dealing Halak when his value was highest, Gauthier got out from having to sign the Slovak goaltender to a lengthy and expensive deal on the back of a single hot playoff run, and locked Price in to a two-year bridge deal at a very reasonable AAV of $2.75 million.

A willingness to trade a fan favourite — even one whose reputation stemmed primarily from a few consecutive weeks of incredible play — means confronting a lot of negative press, but it’s undeniable that Halak was the more appetizing player heading into the 2010-11 season, and waiting until a player’s been riding pine for a few months before dealing them is hardly a sound strategy for maximizing your return.

Regardless, the table was set for a difficult season for Price.

The Canadiens had overperformed against all odds in the 2010 playoffs but were not a particularly strong team. The memories of Price’s impressive start to his career (his NHL numbers were 40-16-8 with a 2.46 GAA, .920 save percentage, and four shutouts by the end of 2008) had been all but wiped away by a premature return from a high-ankle sprain to play in the 2009 Habs centennial-themed All-Star Game, and the season-and-a-half of poor play that followed. The underdog Halak (drafted in the ninth round) had essentially wrested the starting job from the fifth overall pick, and the notoriously fickle Montreal faithful were not quite over the trade yet. Nothing but a bona fide All-Star season from Price would do the trick here.

Those tensions came to a head in what remains the most infamous pre-season game of the past decade in Montreal. (The fact that a pre-season game could earn such a descriptor is really a Montreal-specific situation.) Facing the rival Boston Bruins on September 22, 2010, Price took to the ice for the first time since the trade, and promptly allowed the Bruins to score four times on their first eight shots. When Price made a routine save on the ninth, a harmless dump-in, he got a full-on Bronx cheer from the Bell Centre crowd. In a post-game interview reminiscent of Allen Iverson’s infamous “We’re talking about practice?” press conference, the typically stoic and measured Price dropped one of his most noteworthy soundbytes:

“Just relax. Just chill out. We’ve got lots of time. We’re not winning the Stanley Cup in the first exhibition game.”

As Brian Wilde, writing for CTV, wrote after the game, “I wouldn’t want to be Price. He will have to be God-like to make it work this year. I don’t see how any goalie could make this scenario work.”

Luckily for Price, he’s never quite been any goalie. Two-and-a-half weeks after that pre-season debacle, he registered his first win of the 2010-11 season — his 61st career victory, and first since the departure of Halak. It was a statement victory, and a sign of the things to come now that hockey’s oldest franchise had handed him the reins.

Facing the juggernaut Penguins nearly three years to the day after he beat them in his first career game, he backstopped the Canadiens to a come-from-behind 3-2 victory by stopping 36 of 38 shots — including 12 of 13 in the third period — and was named the game’s second star.

“Carey was really good, but you know what? We expect him to be that way,” noted then-Hab Mike Cammalleri, voicing a sentiment that would come to be commonplace in the Canadiens dressing room in the years to come. “I don’t think that was anything out of the ordinary for him — that’s Carey Price. I loved his body language, he made some game-winning saves throughout the game, so well done by him.”

And how did that first season of the post-Halak era end up panning out? Well, Price tied the Florida PanthersRoberto Luongo for most wins with 38 — the most of any Canadiens goalie since Ken Dryden put up 41 in 1976-77 — played in the 2011 All-Star Game, and posted a top-five save percentage among starting goalies. God-like wasn’t far off the mark.

Carey Price Win Tracker

Current Wins: 307
Earliest Price could tie Plante: February 19 (vs. Columbus Blue Jackets)
Earliest Price could pass Plante: February 21 (vs. Philadelphia Flyers)