Carey Price put his hands on his head and savored the moment.
The Montreal Canadiens goalie rarely shows emotion, but in this instance, he couldn’t help himself.
Seconds earlier, he’d watched Artturi Lehkonen score the series-winning goal at 1:39 of overtime to give the Canadiens a 3-2 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals at Bell Centre in Montreal on Thursday, and the reality was setting in.
He was going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career.
“Unbelievable,” Price said.
He received a wink from Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. He waved to his family in the stands. He wanted them to share in the victory, much like the entire city of Montreal was.
For the player selected by the Canadiens with the No. 5 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, it was time to celebrate with the 3,500 fans in the arena.
“I’m excited for those that were lucky enough to be in the building,” Price said. “Everybody in the city’s obviously ecstatic. It’s a fun time to be in Montreal right now.”
It’s been 28 years since the Canadiens have played in the Cup Final. They will face the Tampa Bay Lightning or New York Islanders, who will play Game 7 of their semifinals series at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Price made 37 saves, none bigger than the one on defenseman Alec Martinez 1:32 into overtime. Montreal quickly transitioned to offense, ending up with a 4-on-2 that was finished off by Lehkonen.
The Canadiens ended the regular season with 59 points, the fewest of the 16 teams to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Price said they never considered themselves to be underdogs.
“Honestly, we wouldn’t be here right now if we didn’t believe,” he said. “We’ve always stuck with it. No doubting ourselves.”
The Canadiens had been to the third round of the playoffs twice (2010, 2014) since Price entered the NHL in 2007. He was hoping the third time would be the charm, especially after what happened seven years ago.
In Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, Price sustained a lower-body injury when Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him skates-first after missing the net on a breakaway in the second period of New York’s 7-2 victory. He missed the remainder of the best-of-7 series, which the Rangers won in six games.
Price was able to be a difference maker this time around. Vegas scored 13 goals in the six games, nine in the final five.
In the process, he and the Canadiens shut down the Golden Knights’ top two forward lines, especially their two leading scorers.
Mark Stone led Vegas with 61 points (21 goals, 40 assists) in the regular season, and former Montreal captain Max Pacioretty was second with 51 points (24 goals, 27 assists), but the two forwards combined for one goal in the series, Pacioretty’s in the third period of Montreal’s 4-1 win in Game 5.
Now the Canadiens move on, in large part thanks to Price.
“Obviously, ‘Pricey’ was the whole measure of our series,” forward Phillip Danault said.