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Road to 315: Carey Price is peerless

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Price is now the winningest Canadiens goalie of all time.

Detroit Red Wings v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Carey Price has won his 315th regular-season game as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. This is the final part of a 10-part series looking at Price’s career through the lens of various milestone victories he’s recorded. Each iteration was posted after one of the final 10 victories it took him to pass Jacques Plante to become the winningest goalie in Canadiens history.

Check out Part 9 here.

Win #315: March 12, 2019

Montreal Canadiens 3, Detroit Red Wings 1

Montreal is not an easy city to live in.

You could just leave it at the weather — what other major metropolis on the planet features annual temperature swings of 80 degrees Celsius from its coldest days of the year to its hottest?

Or you could bring up the permanent state of “under construction” that seems to envelop every road, sidewalk, and metro station on the island in a blanket of constant jackhammer blows, orange pylons, and detour signs. The stretches of the downtown core where storefronts stay empty for years at a time. The gaping, empty wound that is the Big O.The way sometimes the whole island feels like it’s one giant chunk of concrete slowly eroding into the St. Lawrence.

But it’s more than that.

There’s a song by Polaris Prize-winning musician Final Fantasy called “This Is the Dream of Win and Regine,” about Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the couple who founded famous Montreal-based indie band Arcade Fire. The chorus goes, “Montreal might eat its young/but Montreal won’t break us down.”

Owen Pallett, the lyricist, is talking about the infamously caustic and self-cannibalizing nature of the local indie music scene, but he might as well have been talking about the way Montreal treats its hockey players.

Every NHL city has its pros and cons; some players are better adapted to certain climates than others, both literal and figurative. But the climate of Montreal — which has been described as a pressure cooker more times than you can shake a sports journalist’s notebook at — is relatively unique.

If you’re not prepared for an onslaught of media coverage of your every action (or inaction), if you’re not prepared for God-like status when you’re up and outcast status when you’re down, if you’re not prepared to be hounded by autograph-seekers in the frozen food section of the grocery store and lusty choruses of boos when your game’s run so cold it’s as hard as the ice you’re skating on, Montreal’s not the city for you. Montreal is Lennie from Of Mice and Men, and the players are rabbits, soft little animals. Montreal just can’t help it — it loves hockey too much. This town doesn’t know its own strength.

We’ve seen it run players out of town. Break players’ confidence. Turn players away at the door come the opening of free agency. You can imagine their internal monologue: Better to make less money elsewhere, and not have to deal with the Notre Dame cathedral-sized gargoyle of pressure on your back all the time.

Hall-of-Famers were traded away for pennies on the dollar. Perennial All-Stars left for more temperate climes. The man they called St. Patrick even swore never to play another game for this team. The city of Montreal chewed up, spit out, and scared off a lot of players over the years.

But it couldn’t do that to Carey Price.

Oh, there were signs. Scouts talked about his unflappability. Colour commentators noted that he seemed to have ice water running in his veins. That he was “calm,” “cool,” “collected,” and all manner of other C-adjectives. And it’s true. More than his technical poise, his athletic 6’3” frame, his puck-handling prowess, it was his stoic demeanour that made him perfect for Montreal.

Run a thousand, a million different hypothetical goalies through Price’s career path in Montreal and see how many would flame out long before now. That’s not even really a hypothetical anymore. Eighty-three different goaltenders have donned the red, white and blue of the Montreal Canadiens sweater for at least one NHL game over the course of the team’s history; none have played as many minutes, for as many years, or racked up as many wins as Price. He simply outlasted the city, like a rock dropped in a blender that snaps the machine’s whirling blades rather than be turned to gravel by them.

His 315th win was vintage Carey. Playing a lottery team, the Canadiens struggled to pierce Jonathan Bernier, testing him with 20 shots over the game’s first half before a Max Domi deflection touched twine. But the outcome never really seemed in doubt.

However desolate his half of the ice was, Price was in the zone. He only needed to make 20 stops by game’s end — he let in one flukey-seeming goal early in the third that didn’t affect the final outcome — yet managed to keep the puck out of the net on one jaw-dropping, reality-defying sequence halfway through the final frame that had the crowd on its feet chanting, “Carey! Carey!”

He accepted the game’s first-star honour with all the excitement of a man making idle conversation with a coworker after clocking out at the factory on an otherwise uneventful chilly mid-March Tuesday night.

The Bell Centre crowd had barely thinned by that point, on its feet, clapping and cheering him on as he responded with vague platitudes about how the Canadiens were excited for the home stretch, despite beginning the evening out of playoff contention. Then he autographed the camera lens, and skated off the ice, the last player into the dressing room, as he has been so many times over the course of his 12-year career.

What do you do when you become a century-plus-old franchise’s winningest goaltender? When at a comparatively young 31 years of age, there are no more worlds for you to conquer?

The thing about the NHL is that all the success in the world is still meaningless, somehow, unless it happens between April and June; the real milestone is the one that doesn’t get tabulated in the regular-season statistics. Without post-season glory, all your accomplishments ring hollow. It’s a hockey zen koan: If a wins record falls in the regular season, does it make a sound? Price is still chasing something the brightest of the Canadiens stars he’s now passed all got to taste — multiple times: the Stanley Cup.

He was dogged, early in his career, by grumpy complaints that he was a bum, that he didn’t have what it took to bring Montreal to the promised land. That he wasn’t a big-money goalie, couldn’t take the pressure, folded when it mattered most. Critics served up his underwhelming early-career post-season statistics on a silver platter.

Even after snagging World Juniors gold and the Calder Cup win in 2007, the barbs persisted. They became harder to believe when he won Olympic gold in 2014, and even more so when the hockey world watched a team he’d led to a franchise-record hot start in 2015 literally crater when he went down with an injury in November and missed the rest of the season. The World Cup victory in 2016 didn’t hurt, either.

The truth is, in the salary cap era, with 31 (soon to be 32) NHL franchises competing tooth-and-nail for a taste of victory sipped from Lord Stanley’s chalice, it takes more than generation-defining talent to bring the Cup home. Just ask Edmonton fans. Would anyone really be surprised, given the way things have played out so far, if Connor McDavid never brought the Edmonton Oilers to the promised land? If you have far and away the best player in the sport as your number-one centre and can’t even make the playoffs, what chance does a player of Price’s calibre have to drag a half-baked Habs squad through four best-of-seven rounds?

When you’re a game-dominating superstar whose talent alone is not capable of elevating a criminally bad team to the next level, but whose sheer force of will prevents his team from ever being so abjectly terrible they’re forced to reckon with their flaws; when your instinct is to strap 20 teammates on your back and try to power through the opposing side while openly denying that you’re doing just that; when you’re too hardworking and selfless to ever call management out or make demands, where do you go? What do you do?

At this point, in the back half of his career, already ensconced among the top 30 winningest goalies to ever play in the NHL, Price might never win the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens. He might never even get a late-career shot with another organization, the way Dominik Hasek did with the Red Wings.

He doesn’t have Patrick Roy’s selfish instinct to demand better for himself. He might just retire waiting for the Montreal Canadiens organization to ever construct a really good team around him.

But we can’t know that. The future, as they say, is unwritten. For now, we’ll have to settle for this: Carey Price is now the winningest goaltender in the history of the Montreal Canadiens franchise.

Carey Price Wins Tracker

Current Wins: 315