Price is right in the Canadiens’ run to Stanley Cup Semifinals

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Don Nachbaur couldn’t help but reflect back on the cool, calm way Carey Price carried himself as a 16-year-old upon hearing the Montreal Canadiens’ goalie provide a short, to-the-point answer following his latest playoff shutout.

“It’s fun,” Price simply said with a grin in referring to the pressure of preserving a 1-0 win during a 30-save outing in Game 2 of Montreal’s second-round playoff series against Winnipeg.

As efficient in the crease as he is with his responses, Price was no different in 2003-04 during his first full season with the Nachbaur-coached Tri-Cities Americans of the Western Hockey League.

“The hockey part did all the speaking,” Nachbaur recalled.

“What really struck me was how off-the-charts calm he was when he played the game. That’s a quality you can’t teach,” he added. “He’s probably like a duck. I don’t know if he’s swimming below that surface. But he sure doesn’t show it.”

Nothing appears to be rattling the Vezina and Hart Trophy-winner in helping Montreal advance to the semifinals following a four-game sweep of Winnipeg. The Canadiens will face the winner of the West Division final, in which Vegas holds a 3-2 series lead over Colorado.

It’s a surprising run for Price and the Canadiens, who entered the playoffs considered after-thoughts following an injury- and distraction-filled season in which Montreal’s 24-21-11 record was the worst among the 16 postseason qualifiers.

Yet the Canadiens are the last Canadian team standing, and on a 7-0 run during which they’ve not trailed since 4-0 loss to Toronto in Game 4 of their first-round series. After allowing 10 goals in Montreal falling behind 3-1 to the Maple Leafs, Price has allowed just 11 since, with his steady, rebound-smothering demeanor feeding the team’s burgeoning confidence.

“He gives us a chance to win every game, always has a save that has us like, `Oh, come on,’” Phillip Danault said. “He gives us wings.”

That’s what is expected from the face of the Canadiens and team’s highest-paid player, who has on occasion been unable to deliver during his 15 seasons in Montreal.

That was especially the case this spring, when critics focused their attention on Price, who is in the fourth season of an eight-year, $84 million contract. The 33-year-old went 12-7-5 and missed much of the last month of the season with injuries, including a concussion that sidelined him for the final 13 games.

The Canadiens, however, have discovered a team-first identity, which interim coach Dominique Ducharme likens to a puzzle, with Price an invaluable piece.

“He’s our best player. And when your best player is at his top like this, whether he’s a forward or D or goalie, he’s a key part and brings confidence,” Ducharme said. “The confidence and calm that he shows really helps this team.”

Nachbaur saw Price have the same effect during his rookie season, leaving the coach little choice but give the youngster extra playing time ahead of 19-year-old Tyler Wieman, who was drafted in the third round by Colorado.

That included Price going 4-1 in a first-round playoff series win against higher-seeded Portland, before going 1-2 in a second-round series loss to eventual Memorial Cup champion Kelowna.

“I remember him single-handedly shutting down Portland’s 5-on-3 power play,” Nachbaur recalled. “Not only was he making saves from post to post, but he was burying guys in front of the net. And I was standing behind the bench going, `Wow.’”

Mike Babcock had a similar experience with Price while coaching gold medal-winning Team Canada at 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

“We practiced a 5-on-3, but we practiced it with no penalty killers because we didn’t want anyone to take a rocket off their foot. Well, we couldn’t score on him,” Babcock said. “I’ve never seen anything like that, that kind of size, that kind of read of the game, that kind of skating ability and that kind of ability for the puck to stick to him.”

Price allowed three goals over five games in Sochi, closing with shutouts in the semifinal and championship rounds. He provided yet another memorably concise answer when asked about the gold medal hanging from his neck: “It sure is heavy.”

Former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta insists Price is more outgoing in private, while noting his intensely focused public persona is a reflection of the goalie’s drive and leadership.

“You think he’s super quiet, but there were times throughout the years when he would get animated,” he said. “And then you knew it was that switch of, `Ok, we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to smarten up.’”

The most important aspect of Price’s approach is an ability to tune out outside attention, especially in a ultra hockey-focused market such as Montreal, home to 24 Stanley Cup championships but none since 1993.

“Nothing fazes him,” Gionta said.

Price is a six-time NHL all-star, and earned MVP and top goalie honors in 2014-15, when he finished 44-16-6 with a 1.96 goals-against average.

The one thing missing is playoff success: Price is 38-39 overall, and has matched a career-best in winning eight games this postseason.

He also won eight in helping the Canadiens reach the 2014 Eastern Conference finals before being sidelined by a right knee injury in Game 1 of the series against the New York Rangers. Montreal lost the series in six, with Dustin Tokarski taking over in net.

This postseason represents a second chance for Price, something forward Brendan Gallagher said inspires the Canadiens.

“I’ve spent nine years with him, I’ve seen what he’s gone through, what he deals with every single day,” Gallagher said. “Those are the teammates you want to play for and want to win for. There’s not a single guy here that doesn’t feel the same way.”

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.