THE LINE started forming at a suburban Montreal mall six hours early last month, not for a chance to buy precious single-game tickets but to say thank you—and au revoir—to Jaroslav Halak, a goalie who scribbled his name all over the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2010 and was now signing autographs to raise money for a children's hospital. Because the net, payroll and city weren't big enough for two presumptive No. 1s, G.M. Pierre Gauthier traded Halak to St. Louis in June and anointed Carey Price, a former first-round draft pick, as the starter.
If the laconic Price, whose pedigree includes world junior championship and AHL titles, wins back a city of critics that makes Simon Cowell look like Pollyanna, the Canadiens could replicate their surprising playoff run. If not, bleu, blanc, rouge becomes boo, blanch and rue.
Two prominent Eastern Conference veterans believe the 23-year-old Price will be a star ... but on his next team, because he does not have the mental makeup to handle playing in Montreal. After riding the bench behind Halak during the playoffs, says Price, "I'm a little more humble. Last year I learned that you need to earn your ice time. Things aren't necessarily given to you. And that's something I'm really going to remind myself of."
Cory Clouston (3rd season)
44-32-6 (5th in East); lost in first round to Penguins