Price looking sharp as rested Habs prepare for the Leafs


Goalie’s teammates offered him an unusual tribute during Sunday’s workout in Brossard.

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Injuries are never welcome in sports, but the string of injuries the Canadiens overcame to qualify for the NHL playoffs may prove to be a blessing in disguise.

As the Canadiens prepare to meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first game of the best-of-seven Canadian division semifinal Thursday (7:30 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN-690 Radio, 98.5 FM), the players are close to 100 per cent physically and, more important, they are rested.

Carey Price, Shea Weber, Tomas Tatar, Phil Danault, Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher all missed time during the stretch run that saw the Canadiens go though a punishing schedule with 25 games in 44 days.

“It was a big help for the body,” said Phil Danault, who had some rest when he sat out the final three games of the regular season with a concussion. “It was definitely a challenging schedule for everyone involved this year. I feel pretty good right now. Being able to take care of myself was nice for me.”

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The player who missed the most time was goaltender Carey Price, and he’s probably the player who will benefit the most from the time off. Price missed 18 of the final 20 games, including the last 13 with a concussion.

Price has looked sharp the past two days in practice, and his teammates offered him an unusual tribute during Sunday’s workout in Brossard. They cheered on the rare occasions when one of his teammates put a puck past him.

“Carey’s always going to be the same,” Danault said Sunday. “He’s battling hard in practice. We all know he fought through a big injury this year. He’s our No. 1, and Pricey is 100 per cent from what I’ve seen.”

Price knew he wasn’t 100 per cent on April 19 after he caught an elbow from Alex Chiasson on a play that Price said was the result of the Edmonton player “going to the front of the net and doing what he needs to do to be an NHL player.”

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Price was happy when the contact resulted in a goal being disallowed and, while he stayed in the game, he soon realized that he wasn’t right.

“It happened in the mid- to late part of the (first) period and I started feeling a little woozy on the ice,” Price said. “I first noticed that there were flashing lights on the ice and it didn’t make me feel very good. As I went into the locker room, I knew that I wasn’t feeling very good, so the training staff decided that it was a good idea to take me out of the game. I had really bad symptoms for the next two days, pounding headaches. It wasn’t a pleasant time, so I’m thankful to be feeling better now.”

Price said he can see similarities between the current mini-camp and the preparation leading up to last summer’s playoff bubble in Toronto.

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“I was thinking about that this week,” Price said. “The preparations we have this week will be good for everyone, and it’s nice to have some practice time.”

A healthy Price at the top of his game is regarded as the key to success against the Leafs, but he will have to play better than he did in the regular season. In four games against Toronto, Price posted a 1-2-1 record with a 3.48 goals-against average and an .868 save percentage.

Price said goaltending is always important in the playoffs but said that everyone has to play up to his potential.

The Canadiens will work out in the gym Monday and then return to the ice for two practices before flying to Toronto on Wednesday. But Price and Gallagher won’t be with their teammates on Monday. On Sunday, the Canadiens announced he and Gallagher have been assigned to the Laval Rocket on conditioning loans and will play in the Rocket’s final regular-season game Monday night.

phickey@postmedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

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