All is fair in love and war and international hockey. Even ratting out your NHL teammates.

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Opinion

All is fair in love and war and international hockey. Even ratting out your NHL teammates.

Montreal Canadiens' 35-goal man Max Pacioretty tells a funny story about playing for Team USA at the Sochi Olympics last winter and having his coaches and teammates turn to him for advice on beating goalie Carey Price.

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price at the team practice in the MTS Centre Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the game against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price at the team practice in the MTS Centre Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the game against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night.

"So, before the game, when we played the Czechs and they had (Ondrej) Pavelec in net and (Blake) Wheeler had to talk about his tendencies. Whenever we played a team with a goalie from the NHL, a guy from their club had to step up and say what he could to help us," said Pacioretty.

"So I had to talk about Carey but I didn't know what to say. I said, 'If you have to shoot on him, maybe shoot blocker.' But I completely made it up. I didn't want to stand up and say something like, 'He doesn't have a weakness.' But he doesn't. And the best part about his game is somehow, some way, he keeps getting better every single year. It's impossible to pinpoint a weakness in his game. It shows what type of competitor he is. Because if he feels there is something to improve on, he's out there working on it before practice."

The argument has been made this year the Canadiens aren't a very good team but for Price. This statement, however, ignores the fact the Habs are built around Price. It also suggests Price isn't part of the team, which is entirely wrong. Goalie is the most important position in hockey and Price is the best in the world. The Canadiens don't have it wrong. They have it perfectly right. Price is the heart of the Canadiens and every team in the NHL would love to have him.

The numbers this season are staggering. Forty wins in 60 starts and a league-leading .937 save percentage. And it's not like he's underworked. The Canadiens give up chances. Lots of them, in fact, as the 30.7 shots-against average leaves them tied for 23rd in the NHL. Price has seen the NHL's third highest number of shots against at 1,794.

Price will win the Vezina Trophy and the Hart Trophy this season. The only question is if he will collect the Stanley Cup. The Conn Smythe isn't a question because if this Montreal team wins 16 playoff games and the Stanley Cup, Price will surely have been the MVP.

"It's frustrating when people say that we're not a good team except we have Carey Price. Well, he's part of our team and obviously he is the best player on the team and probably one of the best players in the world," said Pacioretty. "This team is built around Carey. I think we've got great defencemen and we've got great forwards. But you play to your strengths. I think we are a team that tries to play a low-scoring game with playoff-style mentality for 82 games, and, obviously, to be successful in doing that, you need great goaltending. You need low-scoring games with low-scoring wins. That's our style of play, we've found success with that."

The Canadiens are a franchise deep in goaltending history. Jacques Plante was the first goalie to wear a mask and also one of the first to handle the puck. Ken Dryden is considered the first goalie to combine size and athleticism as a formula for greatness. Patrick Roy didn't invent the butterfly style but he and his coach Francois Allaire codified it.

Price has won a Calder Cup and an Olympic gold medal. Now, to be mentioned with these men, he needs a Stanley Cup.

On Wednesday afternoon in Winnipeg, Price was soft-spoken, humble and a gentleman. He had chosen to take a day off from speaking with the Montreal media contingent but when word reached him that a Winnipeg reporter was hoping for a few minutes, he emerged from the trainers' room to talk.

Price turned every question about his individual greatness into an answer about his team. It would have been infuriating but for the manner in which he did it. An easy but small smile, patience with questions he'd likely heard a thousand times and when I clumsily dropped my recorder, he bent down to pick it up. He offered his hand when I'd exhausted my efforts to get a juicy quote and then shuffled off the team bus.

"It's just a cold hard fact that I wouldn't be where I'm at without these guys in the locker-room. It's just the reality," said Price. "This is the best our team has been. We've been playing pretty solid hockey all season long. Whenever you get to the 100-point mark, before the end of the season, it's definitely a feather in the hat."

During the Olympics, Team Canada coach Mike Babcock took to referring to Price as big, square and soft. Price smiled when reminded of the reference.

"If he's talking about me as a goalie, that's a compliment. If he's talking about my physique, then probably not," said the 27-year-old from Anahim Lake, B.C. "That's what you strive to do, is make yourself as big of a target as possible and try to give as few secondary chances as possible."

Price's work to date this season is reminiscent of Dominik Hasek with the 1999 Buffalo Sabres or Roy and his playoff run with the Habs in 1993.

The Canadiens are as comfortable with a 1-0 lead as any team in hockey mostly due to the "security" Pacioretty said Price gives his team.

"We don't cheat. We hold each other accountable. And at the end of the day, you don't want to let Carey down. He doesn't let us down," said Pacioretty. "We don't panic in a tight game. Having the best goalie in the world gives you some comfort. I think it's going to help us in the playoffs."

Bob Gainey was GM of the Canadiens back in 2005 when he used the No. 5 overall pick to select Price. The hockey intelligentsia in Montreal screamed. They wanted Gilbert Brule, who went to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the very next slot and then played 299 fairly undistinguished games in the NHL, totalling 95 points.

Ten years later and the selection is the best personnel move the Habs have made in that time.

No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since 1993. This year's Canadiens have an opportunity to right what most folks in this country consider a wrong and Price will be the key.

He already has the weight of an entire province's hockey dreams on his back. If the Habs reach the final, it will be an entire nation hanging on every save.

No worry, he's been through that before. And delivered.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless