Carey Price looked exhilarated. Henrik Lundqvist looked exasperated.
In both cases, there was good reason.
When last we saw these two elite goalies together under the spotlight of the hockey world, they were shaking hands, Priceís mighty Canadians having just defeated Lundqvistís injury-plagued Swedes 3-0 in the Winter Games gold medal contest at Sochi back in February.
Now, three months later, these two adversaries meet again, this time in the NHLís Eastern Conference final which kicks off Saturday afternoon when Priceís Montreal Canadiens face off against Lundqvistís New York Rangers in Game 1 at the Bell Centre.
Itís stunning to think that, when you examine the track records of two of the gameís best, both Lundqvist (38-43) and Price (17-20) own sub-.500 post-season records for their NHL careers. Moreover, while both have Olympic gold in their trophy cases, neither player has ever been able to backstop his team past an NHL conference final.
In other words, Lundqvist and Price arguably are the two best goaltenders on the planet to never have appeared in a Stanley Cup final. Now, the only thing standing in their way is, well, each other.
At first blush, Lundqvist would appear to have the more difficult road ahead. After all, the Bell Centre has been a bleu-blanc-et-rouge house of horrors for King Henrik and his teammates.
Youíd almost think that, if Lundqvist had his say, this series would take place in Sochi again. And thatís taking into account that he didnít even beat Price there.
Indeed, the Rangers have won just twice in Montreal in their past 13 meetings going back to Feb. 2008. As for Lundqvist, who hasnít played in the Habsí raucous home digs since Jan. 15, 2012, he has just a 4-5-2 career record there.
ďItís so long ago since I played there, so I donít really remember (what itís like),Ē Lundqvist chuckled while meeting with reporters on Thursday at the Rangers practice rink in Greenburgh, N.Y.
ďI look forward to going there. I am excited to play. Itís a conference final in Montreal. I will try to go out and play the same way. Donít overthink it. Go out and enjoy it.
ďAs much as you focus on yourself, itís a team game ó going up there, sticking together, and believe that we can do it.Ē
Price believes. Just as his teammates believe in him.
Since helping Canada win Olympic gold, Price has carried a quiet confidence that goes with being a champion. Gone is the inconsistent play, sprinkled with an emotional outburst now and then.
Remember April 23, 2009 when Price, reacting to the Bronx cheers he received from the Bell Centre fans during Game 4 against the Bruins in a first-round series in which the Habs would be swept, lifted his arms in the air in a gesture that reminded many of Patrick Roy?
Price certainly has come a long way since then. And he showed it in the second intermission of Game 7 against the Bruins in Boston on Wednesday night when he addressed his team.
ďIt wasnít much,Ē Price said after the Habsí series-clinching 3-1 win. ďIt was just a reminder to live in the moment. Thatís all I really said. Thatís the truth. At this time of year, itís easy to let your emotions get carried away, especially in a situation like (Wednesday).
ďI thought our guys Ö I donít even think they really needed for me to say anything. I thought we were a really composed group the whole night.Ē
By the time the Eastern Conference final is done, Lundqvist and Price once again will shake hands. Whether Price once again has the upper hand, much like in Sochi, remains to be seen.
HABS LINK STILL STRONG FOR VIGNEAULT
Alain Vigneault is returning to where it all began.
Vigneault, who celebrated his 53rd birthday on Wednesday, has fond memories of Montreal, the place where he had his first NHL coaching job as bench boss of the Canadiens.
After leading the Habs to the conference semifinal in his inaugural season behind the Canadiens bench in 1997-98, he did not reach the post-season again while at the helm of Montreal. He was subsequently replaced 20 games into the 2000-01 season by Michel Therrien.
About 14 years later, Therrien is back for a second stint as coach of the Habs. Vigneault. meanwhile, is in his first season behind the Rangers bench.
On Saturday afternoon, both men and their respective teams will face off in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final at the Bell Centre.
ďThe fact that I started in Montreal, for me, Iíve got nothing but positive memories of my time there,Ē Vigneault told reporters at a news conference in the New York area. ďIt was my first chance to coach at the NHL level. I worked with some great people and Iím here today because I started there.Ē
Vigneault said his relationship with Therrien remains strong. The two men have known each other since both were coaching in the Quebec MajorJunior Hockey League.
ďIím very close with Michel,Ē Vigneault said. ďHeís one of the guys that, through the years, (we) shared our experiences.
ď(Weíve) always been very close. I coached against him in junior. When I was named the Habs (head coach), I recommended that he coach our farm team (in Fredericton). So, Iíve got a lot of respect for him.Ē
FUNERAL DELAYED FOR MARTY'S MOM
Marty St. Louis will have plenty of support to help heal his heavy heart this weekend.
His New York Rangers meet the Habs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final at the Bell Centre on Saturday afternoon, the same day the funeral of his mother, France, was to be held just outside of Montreal.
As a result, Marty has move the funeral to Sunday. And the entire Rangers team plans on being there.
ďSunday, as a team weíll be able to attend his motherís funeral and, hopefully, weíll play a good game Saturday and get ready for the next one after,Ē Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told New York-area reporters on Thursday.
The death of St. Louisí mother was seen as a rallying point for the Rangers, who came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the favoured Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games in the second round.
ďThis game is all about teamwork, itís all about working for one another. And when something like that happens, of course, you get a little closer,Ē Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist told New York writers.