The storylines that populate the Boston Bruins' first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens, which begins Thursday night, are enough to sustain an entire tournament: The Original Six blood feud, the playoff history, the fan angst, the Pacioretty Incident and all of its hyperbolic fallout.
Somewhere on that list is the matchup between Carey Price and Tim Thomas, and it's as compelling a goaltending duel as you'll find in the playoffs.
Consider that Thomas didn't appear in a playoff game last postseason for the Bruins, having been relegated to Tuukka Rask's backup. Consider that Carey Price served the same role behind Jaroslav Halak, getting a spot-start against the Washington Capitals in Game 4 and giving up four goals on 36 shots. For the 2010 playoffs, he had a 3.56 GAA in 135 minutes of play.
Now consider that Thomas will likely win the Vezina this season with a 35-11-9 record, a 2.00 GAA and nine shutouts; and that Price could be a finalist with a 38-28-6 record, a 2.35 GAA and eight shutouts. The former won his job back from Rask; the latter was handed the starting job by the Habs and didn't fumble it away despite intense pressure from media and fans.
Times have changed from last postseason for these two, and they've also changed from 2009, when Thomas was brilliant in a four-game Boston sweep while Price had a 4.11 GAA and an .878 save percentage in taking all four losses for the Habs.
Which brings us to the crux of the debate: Can Carey Price not only shine in the postseason for the first time, but outduel Tim Thomas in Round 1?
From Hockey-Reference.com, Carey Price's numbers in the postseason and yikes:
Again: This was old Carey Price. The emotionally immature one that no one thought could ascend to become a workhorse MVP for the Canadiens, which is what he was this season.
But he also wasn't very good against the Bruins this season, either, as the CP notes:
Thomas is 10-14-4 with a 3.05 GAA in the regular season against Montreal, but he picked up his first shutout against them in their least meeting -- a 7-0 decision in Boston on March 24.
The Bruins veteran was 2-1-1 versus the Canadiens this season with 3.22 GAA while Price was 4-2-0 with a 3.46 average. Price also started in a fight-filled 8-6 loss at The TD Garden in February in which he squared off in an interesting but harmless altercation with the Bruins goalie.
When asked if there would be psychological fallout from being pulled from two straight games in Boston, Price said: "It's pretty irrelevant. Every team has games that aren't very good," he added. "Two of them happened to me against Boston."
That Thomas/Price fight, as a refresher:
Other causes for concern, according to Rich Garven of the Telegram and Gazette: If Price's workload this season will catch up with him "as was the case with Tuukka Rask last year."
He won't be Rask, but he won't be Halak either, lest anyone expect Price to replicate a performance that earned comparisons to names like Dryden and Roy. What he has in this series is an opportunity to show that Carey Price 2.0's success can translate to the postseason, which has otherwise been a hellish experience for him.
Thomas and Price probably won't brawl again, despite our best wishes; it's up to Price to determine whether this'll be a first-round fight for Montreal.