MONTREAL - After the Montreal Canadiens held on to eliminate Ottawa in the sixth game of their first-round playoff series, coach Michel Therrien said more than once that "it's a good thing we had Carey Price on our side."
Therrien said the same often this season as the Canadiens, a low-scoring squad that leans heavily on its goaltender, saw Price produce a career campaign that will probably earn him the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie but may also bring him the Hart Trophy as most valuable player.
Price saved his best for last against Ottawa, posting a 43-save shutout in a 2-0 victory on Sunday night. He rebounded from allowing five goals in Game 5, which had given the Senators momentum that was crushed by Brendan Gallagher's first-period goal and Price's dominance in the net.
"I had no doubt about Carey Price," added Therrien. "I knew he was going to be the best player."
The win put Montral into the second round against either Detroit or Tampa Bay. Either way, the series is to start Friday night at the Bell Centre.
The 27-year-old Price has been doing it all season, going 44-16-8 in 66 starts and leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933). His NHL-best 44 wins in a season was a team record, two more than the mark set by legends Jacques Plante (1956 and 1962) and Ken Dryden (1976).
His nine shutouts were second in the league to Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury.
The six-foot-three Price was equally impressive deeper into the statistics pool.
According to hockey-reference.com, his goals saved above average (saves made compared to the league average for goalies) was 36.70, well ahead of the next best, Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk at 23.70.
Another stat tracks how many extra points a player earns his team in a season. Price led the league with 16.2, a couple ahead of New Jersey's Corey Schneider and Washington's Braden Holtby. The Canadiens had three of the top 20 in that category, with defenceman P.K. Subban eighth at 12.4 and left-winger Max Pacioretty 19th at 10.9.
Some of it stems from playing behind a team with limited firepower up front, although he gets help from a squad that plays a strong defensive game.
The Canadiens scored 221 goals in the regular season, tied with Pittsburgh for last among the 16 playoff teams.
Their power play was 23rd in the league with a 16.5 per cent success rate, which got worse at 1-for-20 in six games against Ottawa.
They were 22nd in the league in time of possession of the puck at 48.6 per cent.
Despite the numbers, Montreal had a 50-22-10 season for 110 points, second overall to the New York Rangers.
Much of that had to do with Price, who conceded two or fewer goals in 44 of his 66 games. The apex came in late January, when he posted consecutive 1-0 wins over the Rangers and Washington.
"He's the best player every night, he's the best player on our team," said Pacioretty. "It's always the last worry on our minds, how Carey Price is going to play.
"He's the best competitor I've ever seen."
Ottawa scored 12 times on Price in the series, including five on power plays. But the main story was the Senators' goalies.
Andrew Hammond, who led Ottawa into the playoffs with a dramatic run over the final two months of the season, was ordinary in losing the opening two games. Veteran Craig Anderson took over and was all-but unbeatable in stretching the series to six games.
Then the Canadiens turned to a familiar formula, grinding out a low-scoring win in front of a spectacular performance from Price.
The Canadiens got two days off after the series and resume practices on Wednesday.