By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (May 19) – The 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs took a major hit today when it became known that Montreal goalie Carey Price is sidelined for the remainder of the Eastern Conference final against New York Rangers. Given how Price quickly and uncomfortably left the Canadiens practice in Brossard, Que. on Sunday afternoon, this is not astounding news.
Neither is it good news for hockey.
Injuries happen unpredictably and at all times of the season. Tampa Bay Lightning lost potential Vezina Trophy winner Ben Bishop in the final week of the regular schedule and may not otherwise have been swept by Montreal in the opening round. But, the Price injury is particularly distasteful given the marquee match-up with Henrik Lundqvist and that only four teams are left vying for the Cup. It is supposed to be Best vs. Best at this juncture of the playoffs. Sadly, that is no longer the case.
CHRIS KREIDER OF NEW YORK RANGERS COLLIDES WITH CAREY PRICE IN GAME 1 OF THE EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL SATURDAY AFTERNOON AT BELL CENTRE. THE MONTREAL GOALIE IS NOW SIDELINED FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE SERIES.
Question is: Do we now concede the Cup semifinal to the Rangers? Given how they have played since Game 4 of the Pittsburgh series, this would be unfair to the New Yorkers. There is no indication – as we speak – that Rangers could not have conquered Montreal with Price in the line-up. Moreover, Peter Budaj is a very capable netminder – among the best No. 2 men in the NHL. And, Dustin Tokarski is another viable option for the Habs. So, the Blueshirts will likely still have to break a sweat before appearing in their first Stanley Cup final in 20 years.
But, there’s no question that some luster has been lost in the Eastern championship. Price vs. Lundqvist was a hockey headliner.
Doubtlessly, Kreider will now be Public Enemy No. 1 among a faction of Montreal supporters – just as he has become a hero for basement dwellers with a Maple Leaf tattooed to their oily skin. Given the characteristic nonsense on Twitter, a segment of Leaf fans – forever seeking consolation – is thrilled that Montreal has lost its most vital cog. But, neither position resonates. Kreider had little option but to slam into Price; to break his own momentum would have defied physics.
This was not a repeat of the celebrated collision between Sportsnet hockey guru Nick Kypreos – then with the Maple Leafs – and Hall-of-Fame goalie Grant Fuhr of St. Louis in Game 2 of the 1996 opening playoff round. Seeking an opportunity, Kypreos did a full-gainer onto Fuhr in the goalcrease at Maple Leaf Gardens, having been nudged from behind by defenseman Igor Kravchuk. Fuhr limped to the dressing room with a torn medial collateral ligament. Back-up Jon Casey entered the game and yielded an overtime goal to Mats Sundin that squared the best-of-seven series, 1-1. Casey, however, was not to be denied. The hero of Minnesota North Stars’ advance to the 1991 Stanley Cup final handcuffed the Maple Leafs and St. Louis won the series in six games.
(SIDE-NOTE: This playoff round is perhaps best remembered around here for Toronto coach Nick Beverley calling his players “nimrods” after a 5-1 defeat in Game 4 at St. Louis. Beverley had replaced the fired Pat Burns in early-March and would himself be replaced behind the Leafs bench by Mike Murphy for the 1996-97 NHL season. Always a good sport, Nick has joked about his unforgettable tag through the years).
NICK KYPREOS INJURING GRANT FUHR (ABOVE) ON COVER OF THE APR. 19, 1996 TORONTO SUN AND PAUL HUNTER’S TORONTO STAR GAME STORY (BELOW).
Perhaps another cautionary tale occurred on May 23, 1999 during Game 1 of the Toronto-Buffalo Eastern Conference final. I vividly remember squinting my eyes in the Air Canada Centre press box during the warm-up and looking for Sabres’ all-world goalie Dominik Hasek. No matter how many times I glanced at the west end of the ACC, I could not locate the Czech-born stopper. Word soon filtered upward that he would miss the series opener with a leg injury – the task falling to Sabres back-up Dwayne Roloson. In the years to follow, we came to understand that Roloson was undoubtedly of playoff caliber, but not at that moment on Bay St. It was considered an immeasurable break for the Leafs to bypass Hasek. Three hours later – after a 5-4 Buffalo victory – the home team was all-but finished. Hasek returned in Game 2 (which Leafs ironically won) and directed a five-game rout of the Blue and White.
So, the Rangers aren’t likely to be given a free pass into the Stanley Cup final this year. The spirited Canadiens will rally around their injured goalie. Budaj and/or Tokarski will provide the New Yorkers a credible alternative. Still, the 2014 Cup tournament has lost arguably its premier attraction: Carey Price vs. Henrik Lundqvist. And, that’s quite a shame.
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