BOSTON — Carey Price offered the tiniest hint of a smile after sending the Boston Bruins home for the summer.
“’I’m ecstatic,” said the Canadiens goalie in the wake of backstopping Montreal to the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers.
Considering it normally takes the Hubble Telescope to spot a change in Price’s emotions, Wednesday was a night to remember.
The Canadiens, who finished eight places and 17 points back of the league-leading Boston during the regular season, made it so by dispatching the big bad Bruins 3-1 in Game 7.
Price, as he has been through the series, was all-world — even reportedly addressing his teammates prior to the third period. Dale Weise, Max Pacioretty and Daniel Briere provided the offence as Montreal rose to the occasion of Game 7 better than the Bruins.
Now the Habs must reload and refocus on the Rangers, a team coming off an emotional series win over Pittsburgh.
“It’s not over. We’re only halfway there,” cautioned Price.
For the Canadiens, the win over Boston was all about respect.
They were tired of being written off as also-ran Smurfs and fed up with what they saw as Boston’s macho posturing.
“Beating those guys, it just feels that much sweeter,” said Weise, who as a former Vancouver Canuck has no love for Boston. “They just disrespected us in every single way and I didn’t think they had any respect for us as a team,” he added. “We’ll leave it at that.”
Said defenceman P.K. Subban: “A lot of people were saying ‘Don’t poke the bear.’ Well I thought they gave us many reasons to keep competing throughout the whole series … Against a bigger, stronger, more experienced team, we pulled out a victory. That’s a character win for us. That’s a character series win for us.”
The chip on Montreal’s shoulder was the size of Mount Rushmore. Weise did not spare the media, turning his attention to TSN’s hockey panel as one of its members stood on his right shoulder.
“We were very comfortable playing that team,” Weise said of Boston. “I think everyone else doubted us. I heard someone on the TSN panel actually say they were the perfect hockey club. I don’t know what that says about us now.”
Said Subban: “It come down to respect. We’ve done a lot of great things in this league since I’ve been here, our team’s done a lot but we failed to get the respect that I think we deserved. And I think we earned that.”
While there were the traditional handshakes after the game, there was also bad blood.
“Milan Lucic had a few things to say to a couple of guys,” said Weise, who declined to go into specifics.
Lucic was unrepentant: “It’s said on the ice so it’ll stay on the ice. If he (Weise) wants to be a baby about it — he can make it public.”
Montreal coach Michel Therrien was cagey when asked about the issue.
“I’m not going to talk about the other team,” said Therrien. “I never talk about the other team. One thing I could tell you we were a group that was really really motivated to win this series.”
He made the comment in both French and English just so the message got across. He too clearly felt his club won more than a playoff round.
“Respect, you’ve got to earn it and I think tonight those guys earned it,” said Therrien.
Boston coach Claude Julien had his own take on the series, which came complete with chest-pounding, muscle-flexing and crest-pointing.
“I don’t think we disrespected them,” he said. “There’s a rivalry here. We don’t like each other, because it’s a rivalry.
“At the same time, the pounding of the chest, people who have been here have seen us do that all year. Because it’s related to Boston Strong. Our guys take some pride in what’s happened in Boston Strong and unfortunately everything we did seemed to be seen as disrespect in Montreal.
“We heard a lot of that whining throughout the series but it had nothing to do with disrespect.”
Julien called it gamesmanship, the kind seen in every playoff round.
“It’s too bad that it gets blown out of proportion. But you know what, they won the series fair and square. They were the better team tonight and you have to respect that.”
The Canadiens showed character in the series, staving off elimination with a masterful performance in Game 6 in Montreal.
They also showed lots of savvy.
Montreal targeted Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, making the 37-year-old look slow and laboured. They also pressured Boston’s young defenders, denying them avenues to advance the puck out of their end.