Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price lost to the New York Islanders on Friday night, but nothing could dampen the positive vibes around Bell Centre as the franchise star played his first NHL game since July 7, 2021.

Price made 17 saves in the 3-0 loss to the Islanders in a battle of two teams out of the playoff picture.

“It’s definitely been a trying season, for myself on a personal level and for the team. I didn’t feel quite normal, but pretty close,” Price said after the game.

Price, 34, hasn’t appeared in an NHL game since Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, when Montreal was eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The next several months were tumultuous for Price. He had offseason knee surgery. He waived his no-movement clause to be left unprotected in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft — the thought being that his massive contract would deter Seattle from selecting him, and he wasn’t taken. On Oct. 7, Price voluntarily entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program for what he said was substance abuse.

“Over the last few years, I have let myself get to a very dark place and I didn’t have the tools to cope with that struggle,” Price said at the time.

Price returned to the Canadiens in late 2021, but his road back hit several setbacks, including a lengthier than expected recovery from his surgery and a non-COVID-related illness that took him out of action.

“It’s been a lot of hard work. Not only by myself but by the training staff,” Price said.

His return to the Canadiens’ crease was welcomed by his teammates.

“I’m incredibly happy that he could play tonight. Finally get into game action. He’s a huge part of our team, and it’s been tough here for him,” Montreal winger Paul Byron said. “He’s a quiet guy. He’s got a calm, passive demeanor to him. But I know how much that meant to him and how much it meant to his family.”

Price’s family was in attendance for his return to the NHL, and he greeted it during warmups — including his 1-year-old son Lincoln, who was watching his father play in person for the first time.

“I think he was a little put off by [my] mask and equipment,” Price said jokingly. “It kept me loose. Kept things in perspective.”

Small moments were heightened throughout the game for Price. He received a standing ovation when his name was announced as the starting goaltender.

“It was a lot of fun. It was heartwarming. It made me feel, I guess, wanted,” he said.

Price made his first save 3 minutes and 32 seconds into the game on a shot by the Islanders’ Kyle Palmieri. The crowd roared in acknowledgment of the moment. After the final buzzer, the Canadiens skated over to personally congratulate Price, like they would after a victory. The remaining fans at Bell Centre gave Price another ovation, and he lifted his stick in appreciation.

This is Price’s 15th NHL season. He has a career record of 360-257-79 in 707 games, all with the Canadiens. Price won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in 2014-15.

Price is signed through the 2025-26 season with a $10.5 million average annual contract value. It’s been a difficult season for the Canadiens, who followed their run to the Stanley Cup Final with a 20-44-11 season, for last place in the Eastern Conference.

Price said it was difficult for him when he wasn’t able to help his teammates.

“I missed it a lot. Any athlete will tell you that when you’re on the sidelines injured, you’re a part of the team, but you’re not part of the process,” he said. “It’s not easy not being part of the solution.”

The Canadiens have seven games left in their season.