MONTREAL - Carey Price threw a glance over at the whiteboard in the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room where the Eastern Conference standings were scripted in marker.
“The guillotine is tightening,” said the Habs goaltender, whose frustrating, miserable string of results - not performances - continued Wednesday night as the Canadiens’ playoff hopes took another step towards that blade with a 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the Bell Centre.
He might as well have been talking about his chances of starting any of the Habs’ remaining five regular-season games.
Not that it’s his fault.
Price, who has seen his teammates score only eight goals in his last five losses, probably meant the noose is tightening in the playoff race, but you get his point.
A playoff spot, which looked like such a sure thing just a week ago, is now anything but.
“It’s crunch time. Five games. This is what makes it fun. It’s almost more fun to be in the race than sitting in (first place) Washington’s position,” said Price, almost convincingly.
Did he really mean that?
“If we make it,” he said.
That it was the Hurricanes that dealt the Canadiens’ chances such a blow shouldn’t be a surprise. Despite their own struggles this season - mostly caused by the absence of goaltender Cam Ward, who was brilliant in his second game back from a bad back - still haven’t lost in regulation here since Dec. 6, 2003 and their current streak is 8-0-2 since the return from the lockout.
So the Canadiens remained stuck on 82 points, but burned another game and fell to eighth in the Eastern Conference behind the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. They also have 82 points but have now played one less game.
The Habs play the Flyers in Philadelphia Friday night.
The Atlanta Thrashers are in ninth place with 80 points and have the same number of games played as the Habs.
Ward was the best player on the ice Wednesday night.
The 26-year-old was brilliant, particularly in the first period, and that is the dreaded scenario for a team like the Canadiens trying to chase down a playoff spot. They were out-shooting the ’Canes 16-3 at one point.
“We were trying a whole new thing: see if we could win without taking a stride,” said Carolina coach Paul Maurice. “It was a short experiment.”
The Canadiens needed the power play to take a 1-0 lead at 8:04 of the first period when Marc-Andre Bergeron, at the tail end of a 5-on-3 advantage, took a smart pass from the corner from Scott Gomez and unleashed a one-timer by Ward on the glove side.
The Habs haven’t helped Price much but it got stupid Wednesday night as defenceman Roman Hamrlik put the tieing goal into his own net. Hamrlik chopped down Carolina forward Brandon Sutter as he was cutting in on Price and Hamrlik wound up sliding into Price along with the puck.
After a video review, it was determined the puck crossed the goal line before the net had been knocked off its moorings.
“It’s just Lady Luck frowning at ya,” said a resigned Price.
When Carolina captain Eric Staal knocked in a rebound of an Erik Cole shot on the power play four minutes into the third, that turned out to be all the Hurricanes would need.
With just five games left in the season and so much hanging in the balance, it’s hard to imagine Price getting another start.
For whatever reason, the Habs just have been playing better in front of Jaroslav Halak.
That’s all the reason Canadiens coach Jacques Martin needs to ride Halak the rest of the way...and see what happens.