BOSTON — Carey Price saw the puck much better Thursday night than he did a year ago from the Montreal bench.
The Canadiens goalie posted his third postseason shutout after starting just one of his team’s 19 playoff games last season, Brian Gionta scored twice and Montreal opened the series with a 2-0 win over the Boston Bruins.
“If we were able to write down on paper how we would have wanted to start the series this would have been it,” Price said.
The tall netminder stopped 31 shots, few of them challenging and most with no Bruins in the slot to block his view.
“You need to take away his vision,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “We were all around the net but we weren’t in front.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday night in Boston.
Price was a spectator for most of last year’s playoffs, watching Jaroslav Halak carry the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference finals where they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. But Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blues in June and Price regained the starting job he had lost at midseason last year.
This season, he started 70 games.
“He was our most valuable player in the regular season and he gave us a chance to win every night,” Montreal coach Jacques Martin said.
Price finished third in the NHL with eight shutouts, seventh with a .923 save percentage and 10th with a 2.35 goals against average. His eight shutouts ranked third. But Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was the best in the league with a 2.00 goals against average, a .938 save percentage and a .718 winning percentage and second with nine shutouts.
But Thomas couldn’t do much to stop Gionta’s goal at 2:44 of the first period on a pass from Scott Gomez from the left boards. Gionta and Mathieu Darche both got behind the Bruins defense with Darche directly in front of Thomas and Gionta on the right side of the crease. Darche let the puck go by and Gionta put it in between Thomas’ left side and the post.
“I didn’t know there was a guy at the back door,” Thomas said. “I was playing the guy in front and it looked like he was the one that was going to pick it off, and by the time I realized that it got through him and over to Gionta he made a quick shot. If he holds it a half second more I can get over there.”
Gomez also assisted on Gionta’s other goal at 16:42 of the third period.
“Anytime in the playoffs you can take one on the road and it’s the first one, that’s big,” Gomez said.
The game was played cleanly without any fights between the teams that had several physical confrontations during the regular season.
In Boston’s 8-6 win at home on Feb. 9 there were 45 penalties for 182 minutes. On March 8 in Montreal, the Canadiens won 4-1, a victory overshadowed by Zdeno Chara’s hard hit that drove Max Pacioretty into a stanchion between the team’s benches. Pacioretty suffered a severe concussion and a cracked vertebra. Chara was penalized but not suspended by the NHL and Montreal police announced an investigation.
The Bruins dominated play for most of the last two periods, but it was a disappointing playoff start after a disastrous end to their postseason last year. They won the first three games over the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But Philadelphia forced a seventh game in which it rallied from a 3-0 deficit to a 4-3 victory.
One of the Bruins best stretches Thursday came after killing a penalty midway through the second period. They fired numerous shots at Price, several stopped by Montreal players before reaching the net.
At 11:45 of the period, Patrice Bergeron had a clear shot from 15 feet on the left but put it into Price’s midsection.
Price’s outstanding performance was a major change from his last two games in Boston in which he allowed 13 goals. He let in all of Boston’s goals in the 8-6 loss 9 and five in a 7-0 loss on March 24.
“Things that happen in the regular season don’t necessarily happen in the playoffs because it costs a lot more,” Price said. “Teams are playing differently.”
He also was the losing goalie in all four games in the opening playoff round in 2009 when Boston swept Montreal, but he was sharp on Thursday.
“He’s a great player and will come up big when we need and that’s why everybody on the team believes in him,” Gionta said.
The Bruins may have lost home ice advantage in the series but it’s just one defeat.
“Who said it was frustrating?” Chara said. “I think we did a lot of good things. We just couldn’t score a goal.”
Notes: Montreal was 4-2 against the Bruins in the regular season with one win coming in overtime. … The Bruins’ poor power play continued in the postseason as they failed to score on three opportunities. They were ranked 20th in the regular season, scoring on 16.2 percent of their opportunities. … The teams are facing each other for an NHL record 33rd time in the playoffs. The Canadiens have won 24 of the first 32 series.
Sabres 1, Flyers 0
PHILADELPHIA — Ryan Miller stopped 35 shots for his second career postseason shutout and Patrick Kaleta scored to lift the Buffalo Sabres to a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoff series Thursday night.
Miller stopped every shot under all types of pressure and carried the Sabres to the clutch opening win. The teams have met eight times in the postseason and the Game 1 winner won the series each time.
Kaleta snapped the scoreless tie early in the third period when he powered a rebound past rookie Sergei Bobrovsky.
No team was more resilient in last year’s playoffs than the Flyers. They trailed Boston 3-0 in the East semifinals before taking the series and playing until a Game 6 loss to Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals.
Game 2 is Saturday in Philadelphia.
The Sabres — 10 points out of a playoffs spot on Jan. 17 — cracked the scoreless tie 5:56 into the third period on Kaleta’s second career postseason goal.
Buffalo won a fight for the puck along the boards and dumped it across the ice to Marc-Andre Gragnani. He fired a slapper from the top of the circle and Kaleta knocked in the rebound from the low slot for the 1-0 lead.
Kaleta was healthy enough to play at a perfect time after missing most of the last month of the season with a bruised knee.
Miller was flawless from there and the Sabres — the hottest team in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1 — are in control.
Once a rowdy and devastating home-ice advantage, Philadelphia continues to struggle at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers dropped six straight games at home before snapping that streak in the season finale. They now have a Game 1 loss after dropping Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals here last season.
Miller was the reason for their latest loss.
The Flyers attacked the net with a barrage of shots that went nowhere except straight into Miller. The former MVP of the Olympics stopped Kimmo Timonen on a slapper midway through the second period when the Flyers held a 5-on-3 edge
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called timeout when the Flyers had 34 seconds of a two-man power play.
They came up empty on a power play that has cost them down the stretch. The Sabres stuffed the crease and the puck had no chance of finding the back of the net. With the aid of the stout defense, Miller stopped 16 shots in the second period.
The Sabres got rough to protect their net, with defenseman Chris Butler shoving James van Riemsdyk flat on his back.
The Flyers could have used some extra protection on the blue line but they played without Chris Pronger.
Pronger, a former NHL MVP, has been sidelined since having hand surgery in March. He also missed time with a foot injury and was limited to just 50 games this season.
He skated and held a stick during practice this week, but he wasn’t ready for Game 1. He remains day to day. Pronger has said he’s very confident he’ll play against the Sabres.
Bobrovsky made the routine saves and covered some tough ones that had to help calm some playoff debut jitters for the Russian rookie.
The Flyers came oh-so close 6 minutes into the game when van Riemsdyk pounded the puck off the post. Miller later stuffed Flyers captain Mike Richards on a backhand attempt and it was already clear that Game 1 would belong to the goalies.
Both teams had playoff energy to burn. There were a series of scrums and punishing hits that signal playoff hockey — especially in Philadelphia.
Fans dressed in matching orange shirts and erupted when Lauren Hart, the daughter of longtime former Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart, sang “God Bless America,” alternating lyrics with Kate Smith, who was on a video image. Smith’s rendition of the song has been a rallying anthem for the Flyers since the mid 1970s.
Notes: The Flyers had home ice in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004. … Buffalo finished the regular season with only one regulation loss in the last 13 games, and went 16-4-4 after Terry Pegula purchased the team in late February.