Carey “Playoff” Price for the Conn Smythe?

Magnificent, show-stopping, game-saving. Carey Price’s playoff performance matches all these descriptors and more. However, does his goaltending make him worthy of a Conn Smythe Trophy should the Stanley Cup come back to Canada? Moreover, does his Conn Smythe crowning hinge on the Habs’ season ending with another banner in the rafters?

Despite the 5-1 beating Montreal suffered at the hands of Tampa Bay last night, Carey Price stood out.

As the Lightning rained down an assault throughout the second period, Price stood tall. The game easily could’ve slipped to a landslide lead for the Bolts. However, Price fought hard to keep his team in it. For just one example look at his mid-second period, sprawling save on Tyler Johnson. 

Without Price’s stop, Tampa would’ve gone up 3-0 halfway through the second period. Instead, Price gave his team a shot as the period ended 2-1 Bolts and the Habs retained a chance to come back in the third.

If anyone questions the existence of Playoff Price after his attempt to stave off Tampa’s game 1 onslaught, then prepare for an education.

The two most obvious pieces of evidence proving that Price truly adopts a different form in the playoffs come from the two most important statistics for a goalie: Goals Against Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (SV%).

While the titles speak for themselves, here’s a brief description of each statistic. GAA measures the average number of goals that a goaltender concedes in each game. SV% determines the percentage of shot attempts faced that the netminder saves.

Throughout Price’s tenured career, a pattern has emerged. When looking at the statistics, Carey Price almost always performs better in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. Even times when he excels in the regular season, he kicks his goaltending into overdrive come the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Over the course of Price’s career, hockey fans have always alluded to his different levels of success in the regular season compared to the playoffs. Not only does Carey Price pass the eye test and just generally look better in the playoffs than he does in the regular season, but he has the stats to back it up.

During his career, Price has amassed an overall 2.50 GAA with a .917 SV%. However, he really does seem to flip a switch during his quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Throughout his career playoff games, Price totaled a 2.37 GAA and a .919 SV%. 

While these numbers are only slightly different, that difference marks a fairly significant difference in Price’s level of play. Not only does Carey Price look better during the playoffs, but he performs better in them too. 

Playoff Price is simply a fact.

Now, back to the primary point: is Price’s impressive goaltending worthy of a Conn Smythe Trophy? And is winning the award dependent on the Habs hoisting Lord Stanley’s Mug?

For those who are newer to hockey or just aren’t familiar with the award in general, the Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded “to the most valuable player for his team in the playoffs.” It’s the playoff MVP award, and almost always goes to a player of the Stanley Cup-winning team.

There’s no doubt that Carey Price is already in the conversation for this year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner. This season the margin between Price’s regular season and playoff statistics is even more exacerbated.

In the 2020-2021 regular season, Carey Price posted a mediocre, but not abysmal, 2.64 GAA and a disappointing .901 SV%. However, once the quest for the cup began, Price turned his play into high gear and has been making incredible saves, game after game, series after series.

While goaltenders can’t necessarily win a team games, they most certainly can lose them. Furthermore, a brilliant save can carry broader consequences for the game at large. They possess the capability to completely shift a game’s momentum and put a team struggling to stay afloat in the driver’s seat. The perfect example of that is the latter half of the second period after Price’s save on Johnson (see tweet above).

Once Price denied that attempt, Montreal took control. Chiarot posted a goal to put the Canadiens within one and give them all the momentum. Heading into the third it was anybody’s game, and the argument could easily be made that, despite being down a goal, Montreal was looking like the winner.

Although Montreal ultimately ended up crumbling and suffering a 5-1 defeat, Price kept them in as long as possible. Game 1 wasn’t the first time that Carey Price has done that this year. Since the beginning of the playoffs, he has fought to keep Montreal afloat and, as evidenced by Montreal’s spot in the Stanley Cup Finals, succeeded.

Looking back at Montreal’s past 12 wins, Price made so many of them possible. He frequently had the ice tilted his way but persevered and prevailed. A plethora of other NHL goaltenders wouldn’t have pulled off the saves that Carey Price did. Scores would’ve been flipped on their heads. Easy Montreal wins would’ve turned to losses and their spot in Stanley Cup Finals likely would’ve been filled by another.

Fortunately for Montreal, playoff legend Carey Price has shown up, big time. Even after their hefty Game 1 loss to the Bolts, Price boasts impressive stats. Currently, he holds a great 2.18 GAA paired with a solid .928 SV%.

As I said earlier, a netminder can lose a team game, but cannot win them. Carey Price certainly didn’t lose Montreal game 1 against the Bolts. One of the goals even came at no fault of his own but off a terrible blunder by the Habs’ own Ben Chiarot paired with the fantastic hand-eye coordination of the Lightning’s Ondřej Palát.

Carey Price puts up an incredible performance but the Habs cannot find a way to stop a Bolts’ offensive assault or put pucks behind Vasilevskiy then Price is irrelevant. 

Price performed incredibly well throughout the first three rounds. Moreover, he showcased tremendous effort to give the Habs as great a chance as possible in game one. These factors certainly warrant Conn Smythe consideration, even if Tampa Bay repeats.

However, practicalities must be considered. The reality is that players who lose the cup almost never win the award, a fact I mentioned previously. Since the Trophy’s inauguration in 1965, only five times has it been awarded to a member of the team who lost the Stanley Cup Final in the Conn Smythe’s 55-year history. 

The likelihood that Price plays well enough to win the Conn Smythe while his team simultaneously wins The Cup is marginal. Only a truly mind-boggling performance by Price could propel him to a Conn Smythe victory if the Habs can’t finish the final chapter of their Cinderella story.

If the Habs underdog story ends in happily ever after then Price is the runaway Conn Smythe winner. However, he won’t be the playoff MVP if their story ends in heartbreak.