TAMPA, Fla. - Carey Price won the Montreal Canadiens a division title and got them to the second round of the playoffs. Ultimately, he couldn't save them from elimination.
Minutes after the Canadiens' season ended Tuesday night with a Game 6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Price took responsibility for the playoff exit.
"I didn't play well enough for us to win the series," Price said. "I think that's basically more or less what it comes down to. We lost a lot of tight games. I just needed to make that one more save in all the games that we lost and I didn't do that."
Price's numbers, a 2.53 goals-against average and .896 save percentage, were below his amazingly high bar from an MVP regular season. But that doesn't tell the whole story of the series against the Lightning.
The Habs scored just 13 goals, six of them coming in a Game 4 rout when on the brink of elimination. They had two or fewer in the other five games.
Montreal carried the play and outshot Tampa Bay in a reversal of its season-long trend but didn't capitalize and again put the pressure on Price to be almost perfect. The likely Hart and Vezina Trophy winner was disappointed he couldn't be, but defenceman P.K. Subban wasn't accepting Price taking the blame.
"I don't care what Carey says, we need to be better around him and support him more," Subban said. "I think too many times this year he's bailed us out and that's got to change moving forward if we want to be a successful team in the regular season and the post-season.
"If we expect him to play the way he's played this year every year, it's unfair. There's going to be ups and downs, and it's tough to be at that level every single game. He's managed to do it this year, but we have to realize our job is to make his job easier, not to make it more difficult."
With his pointed comments Tuesday night, Subban got to the root of Montreal's biggest problem: relying too much on Price. The 27-year-old led the NHL with a 1.96 GAA and .933 save percentage, and his brilliance masked the Habs' deficiencies.
They were one of only two teams to make the playoffs after being outshot on average over the course of 82 games, and they were 20th in goals a game. But with Price leading the way, the Habs allowed the fewest in the league.
Price was brilliant in the first round against the Ottawa Senators, particularly in a 43-save shutout to close out the series. He gave up an overtime goal in Game 1 and one in the final seconds of regulation of Game 3 against the Lightning, which was enough to make the difference in the series but not enough to convince teammates it was Price's fault.
"I do not agree," forward Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau said in French. "It's pretty hard as statement. Carey was our best player all year and most valuable player this season. To me, he was very good in the playoffs."
But Price wasn't good enough and neither were the Habs. Coach Michel Therrien called them a "team in transition" that took big steps, but the ending came one round earlier than last year, when Price was injured.
Subban said he wants players to be hard on themselves and "take ownership" for the season ending. Between Subban, Price, Max Pacioretty, Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec — the Habs leadership group — he noted there was plenty of responsibility to go around.
Price taking all of it, Subban said, is unfair.
"I don't think there's anyone in this room that can say they were at their best," Subban said. "(Price) should enjoy his off-season, he's played a lot of good hockey over the past two season and especially this season, and for all of us it's going to be tough to continue to watch the playoffs knowing we could play and we're not playing, but that's the way it goes."
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