Stu Cowan: Canadiens’ Carey Price finds himself back in a happy place

“There’s definitely been a lot of time for self-reflection on a personal level and as a professional,” goalie says about return to action.

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Carey Price heard from former Canadiens teammate Tomas Plekanec after making his long-awaited season debut last Friday at the Bell Centre.

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“Pleky reached out to me,” Price said after practice Monday in Brossard. “Said he was happy to see me out there and I said thank you and called him something we call each other.”

Price then flashed a smile that has rarely been seen in the past when he was dealing with the media.

After Friday’s 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders, Price also received a text from Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who was his teammate when they won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

“Sid reached out to me, too, and said it’s good to see you out there again,” Price said. “So I was pleasantly surprised — not really surprised. But happy to see a text from him.”

Canadiens fans showed how happy they were to see Price back in goal last Friday, stopping 17 of the 19 shots he faced (the third goal was an empty-netter) in his first game since having knee surgery last July to repair a torn meniscus, followed in October by a 30-day stay in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program to deal with substance-use issues.

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Price will be back in goal Tuesday when the Canadiens play the Minnesota Wild at the Bell Center (7 pm, TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

Price has been through a lot since carrying the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup final last season. He seemed much more comfortable than he has in the past answering questions following Friday’s game and it was really nice to see him smiling after practice Monday. Part of that might have to do with everything he has come back from, and part of it probably has to do with Chantal Machabée being the team’s new vice-president of communications and working on making the players feel more comfortable and be more open with the media since they are also speaking to the fans.

“There’s definitely been a lot of time for self-reflection on a personal level and as a professional,” Price said. “I would say it’s really definitely been a trying time. But at the end of the day, it’s been positive because I’ve been able to handle those experiences and come on top of them.”

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The only thing missing from Price’s resume is a Stanley Cup and he spoke about what it felt like to come so close last season and now seem so far away with the Canadiens having the second-worst record in the NHL.

“I think that’s something that even today it’s still hard to kind of comprehend,” he said. “Coming so close, I think any team that has ever got to that point will say that it’s probably taken years to get over that (Stanley Cup loss) unless you get the opportunity right away. And not having had that opportunity for 14 years and then getting it and getting so close and yet being so far away, it’s something that I’m still getting over. It definitely feels like a chance lost still.”

Price will turn 35 in August and still has four more seasons remaining on his eight-year, US$84-million contract. It will be interesting to see if his health will allow him to complete that contract and also if he will remain with the Canadiens or get a chance to win a Stanley Cup with another team. Price will first have to prove he can stay healthy and would also have to sign off on any trade since he has a full no-movement clause in his contract. The Canadiens would also probably have to eat a big chunk of his annual $10.5-million salary-cap hit in any possible trade.

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When Price entered the media room after Friday’s game the first thing I noticed was he appeared to have lost some weight. Price was never overweight, but he’s a big, strong man — built more like an NFL tight end than an NHL goalie, making it even more remarkable how agile and flexible he is.

“I think moving forward I definitely would like to lighten the load,” he said. “I got really big legs. I’ve always been like that, it’s just my body type. Moving forward it’s going to be increasingly important… I want to stay probably around 210 (pounds). I’m in around 216 right now, I’ve been like that ever since probably for 12 years now. I got up to about 240 I think when I was in my younger 20s.”

When asked how much longer he thinks he can play, Price said: “I just want to be able to finish playing at an acceptable level. I don’t know how long that is. But, at the end of the day, I want to be able to say that I left the game playing well and not being a burden.”

The future will play itself out, but on Monday it was just nice to see a smile on Price’s face.

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