Call off the search parties, the real Carey Price has been found.
There had been sightings over the past couple of months, more in recent weeks, but Tuesday night at the Bell Centre Price emerged, safe and sound, and all of Habs nation rejoiced.
His performance in Montreal's decisive 4-1 victory over his former mentor Cristobal Huet and the Chicago Blackhawks was simply masterful It would be called vintage Price if only his body of work were deep enough to allow for the use of such a term. But it signalled that Bob Gainey's blind faith in him was not foolhardy, as I was convinced it was, but rather quite clairvoyant.
He didn't need to look spectacular for most of the night, though his glove grab to start the third off Martin Havlat certainly fit that description, and that's why this was a game that reminded me of Price at his best: in position, ready to make the save before he needs to be, never scrambling. He gave up the odd dangerous rebound here and there, but Price appeared in control of the situation throughout the night.
His was not the only performance that made the Canadiens so formidable on this night - Christopher Higgins flying all over the ice while supposedly suffering from a virus comes to mind - but it was easily the most significant in the big picture.
If Tuesday night indeed marked the return to form of a dominant Carey Price a mere six games before the end of the regualr season, who knows what that could mean for the Canadiens in an Eastern Conference playoffs where all but two teams have question marks in goal?
Of course, the Canadiens spot in those playoffs are far from guaranteed, still clinging to eighth spot by one point over the Florida Panthers who kept pace with a 5-2 win at home over Ottawa. Montreal now plays four of its final six on the road, where the Habs are a dreadful 15-19-3 this season. But the great equalizer on the road is always goaltending, and if the Canadiens have that they can easily go at least .500 on their remaining road games.
Now, for the bad news.
Roman Hamrlik didn't finish the game after colliding into linesman Pierre Champoux in the second period, and then having Ben Eager's knee brush his head. That would be a devastating loss as it would force Ryan O'Byrne into the lineup, and he definitely cannot be thrown into this kind of an environment so cold.
Sergei Kostitsyn was also lost after he had his head slammed into the boards by an Aaron Johnson elbow that I saw as more coincidental than anything. Obviously, that view wasn't shared by brother Andrei, who jumped Johnson and earned 19 minutes in penalties for his effort, effectively ending his night as well.
Sergei's loss could pretty easily be filled by Matt D'Agostini, but if Hamrlik were to miss any time God knows how the Habs would compensate for this crucial stretch of six games.