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After Kathy's death in November 2005, general manager Bob Gainey thought that the stay-at-home defenseman should actually stay at home, take time on Long Island to clear his mind. But a telephone call to Hart convinced the G.M. otherwise. "He told me that Mike didn't need to be insulated in that way," Gainey says. After firing coach Claude Julien and temporarily going behind the bench himself in January '06, Gainey started giving Komisarek more responsibility. Carbonneau gradually eased him into a larger role last season. Now, with Rivet (traded to San Jose) and Souray (signed with Edmonton) gone, the training wheels have come off.
Paired with the exquisite Markov, Komisarek, who has had five fights this season, became at once the on-ice bad mood that Montreal had sorely lacked. He is a fan favorite. When he drew back-to-back minor penalties against the Rangers late in the second period in the midst of the wild comeback, 21,273 Canadiens partisans littered the ice with giveaway posters. (Think of it as Stanley Cup ticker tape waiting to be shredded.) "The thing that upsets him most is hockey laziness," says Higgins, who shares Komisarek's yoga and workout regimen during summers on Long Island. "He came from a family that worked its ass off to get where they did, and he doesn't want anyone here to take it for granted."
Montreal used to take Stanley Cups for granted, but after more than a decade of fans genuflecting in the direction of the CH out of habit but not belief, they have found their voice. Halte l�, halte l�, halte l�. For a man who has made the biggest team in hockey history big again, this is a hit song.
As a measure of defensive effectiveness—and courage—SI has devised a simple but telling stat: the Toughness Quotient (TQ), which combines a player's hits and blocked shots. Through March 1, no one was close to Mike Komisarek.
The Right Price
A surprise deadline deal turned 20-year-old Carey Price into the Canadiens' starting goalie
CAREY PRICE owns a Harley-Davidson edition Ford pickup truck, but his second vehicle is a 2008 Stanley Cup model bandwagon. Canadiens G.M. Bob Gainey handed the 20-year-old rookie goalie the keys to Montreal's title hopes at the Feb. 26 trade deadline by sending nominal No. 1 netminder Cristobal Huet to the Capitals for a 2009 second-round draft choice. Instead of landing the impact forward he sought, Gainey streamlined his team by dealing Huet and entrusting the net to Price and 22-year-old backup Jaroslav Halak, who was recalled from the minors. Their average age of 21 years, eight months is more than five years younger than the next-most-junior tandem for a team in playoff position.
The Canadiens have had success with twice-in-a-lifetime rookie goalies: Ken Dryden in 1971 and Patrick Roy in '86, both of whom won the Conn Smythe. Price, who had a 2.83 goals-against mark in 26 games before the trade, was the MVP at the '06 world junior championship and in last spring's AHL playoffs. He's a rangy 6'3", and no goalie is as preternaturally calm. Certainly the bump up to No. 1 didn't rattle him: Price stopped 92 of 96 shots in winning his first three starts after the Huet trade.