It would appear the Montreal Canadiens will be counting on Carey Price to pull them even in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.
While Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said he would wait until this morning to name his starting goaltender for tonight's Game 4 at the Bell Centre, all the signs point to Price over Jaroslav Halak.
The most telling signs came after Tuesday's practice when both goaltenders addressed the media. Price seemed upbeat and relaxed, while Halak almost seemed resigned to playing the backup role.
"This is not up to me; it's out of my reach," Halak said when asked about the starting assignment. "If I don't play, I'll understand. If Carey plays, the whole team will be behind him and that includes me."
Halak was the difference in Game 1 of the series last Thursday as he backstopped the Canadiens to a surprising 3-2 overtime win in Washington. But he was part of a general meltdown in Game 2, which ended with a 6-5 overtime loss, and was yanked after giving up three goals to start the second period in Game 3 at the Bell Centre on Monday night.
"As a team, we had a good first period," Halak said of Monday's game. "We came out hard and we had some chances, but we didn't score. In the second, we had a power play and we gave up a short-handed goal. It wasn't the kind of start we wanted in the second period. Then, they had a few chances and they scored."
Halak can't be blamed entirely for the losses, but the bottom line is that from the time the Capitals launched their comeback from a 4-1 deficit in Game 2 until the time he was lifted in Game 3, the Slovak gave up eight goals on 30 shots for a save percentage of .733.
Price, whose overall regular-season numbers were nowhere near as good as Halak's, does have a few things going for him if he plays Wednesday night.
For starters, he enjoyed some success against Washington. He played all four regular-season games and posted a 2-1-1 record. He also has more size than Halak and that could come in handy in what has become a physical series.
In Game 2, the Canadiens complained that the Capitals were trying run Halak. Martin voiced his concerns to the NHL supervisor for the series and the situation was better Monday.
"I think they did a better job on both sides," said Halak. "They called a few penalties on both sides. In Game 2, there were some questionable calls, things they didn't call."
"I'm all for guys going to the net, that's part of hockey," said Price. "At the same, you have to protect the goaltender. You're pretty vulnerable when you're down on your knees and guys are coming at you full speed. I trust the referees to do their job. (On Monday) night, the referee mentioned to Ovie (Alexander Ovechkin) to watch the crease and that's what the ref has to do."
The Canadiens will probably make some lineup changes for Game 4. The most significant will be addition of Ryan O'Byrne on defence in place of Marc-Andre Bergeron. O'Byrne provides the Habs with a bigger body and a more physical presence.
Bergeron will stay in the lineup as a forward so that he can be available for the power play, which has gone 3-for-12 in the series.