Game preview #4: Canadiens-Flyers
TV: NBC (HD), CBC (HD), RDS (HD)
(Philadelphia leads best-of-seven series, 2-1)
Big story -- Suddenly, a Philadelphia romp in the Eastern Conference Finals has been replaced by an intriguing series, thanks to Montreal's dominating 5-1 win in Game 3 at the Bell Centre on Thursday night. That emphatic win washed away, at least temporarily, the dominance that Philadelphia showed in the first two games, outscoring Montreal 9-0 at the Wachovia Center. Now, the Canadiens have the confidence to believe they can rally from a deficit for the third-straight series, while the Flyers are suddenly questioning themselves, believing they have yet to play their best game. If Montreal can ride the wave of the Bell Centre crowd again in Game 4 and pull off another victory, this suddenly becomes a best-of-3 series.
Canadiens -- The Canadiens have a feeling that they have at least figured out how to play the Flyers. After being embarrassed in Game 1 and still struggling to find offense in Game 2, Montreal used its team speed and a willingness to be hard on the puck and around Michael Leighton’s net to turn in a surprising 5-1 victory in Game 3.
"I think that's what we're working toward," Brian Gionta said. "You can pretty much write off Game 1, but Game 2 we were starting to get back to what we wanted to do. Then tonight we executed a lot better what we wanted to do. It was a build off of Game 2.
"So I think they're a hard-working team, hard-forechecking team, so you've got to move the puck quick and make sure that your forecheck makes 'D' work and turn and go back for the puck all night. I thought we did a good job of that tonight."
At the other end of the ice, the Canadiens were far more organized as well. For the first time, they limited the traffic around Jaroslav Halak and they handled the aggressive Flyer forecheck by using quick outlet passes to forwards more ready to accept those passes.
The cohesiveness of Montreal's play in each of the three zones seemed to frustrate the Flyers as the game went on and the Montreal lead built. And now, a team that has already erased series deficits of 3-2 and 3-1 in the previous two rounds believes it has the goods to erase the 2-0 deficit in this round.
"Well, we've had enough practice," coach Jacques Martin said, cracking a rare smile. "You know, basically since the Olympic break, we've been playing desperate hockey, and similar situation for the Flyers.
"When you look at, both teams made the playoffs on their last game of the regular season. Both teams have faced elimination in their previous playoff rounds, both teams have shown a lot of resiliency."
Flyers -- After six-straight wins and the incredible high of becoming just the third team in the history of the NHL to rally from an 0-3 deficit in a best-of-7 playoff series, the Flyers came crashing back down to earth on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
After almost two weeks of getting every lucky bounce and every big save, the Flyers were on the opposite end of the equation, being victimized by unlucky bounces and soft goals. They were losing 50-50 puck battles and turning pucks over at an alarming rate in their own end.
The result was perhaps their ugliest game of the postseason. Friday, they were quite unhappy about it.
"There is a fine line between cocky and confident, and to be honest we haven't really played our best hockey the last couple of games and maybe we needed this," forward Daniel Carcillo said. “It’s over now and we can maybe keep it in the pit of our stomach for a little bit extra motivation tomorrow."
In Saturday's Game 4, the Flyers say they will return to the puck-hounding, defensively solid team that dismantled the higher-seeded New Jersey Devils and roared back against a Boston team that had them on the ropes.
"I thought today's practice was much more upbeat, and our execution was good," captain Mike Richards said Friday. "It's not like we don't know how to do it. I think it's just that the mindset of going into tomorrow has to change from yesterday, and I think the message was delivered and received and reciprocated by everybody."
Who's hot -- Nobody is hotter than Michael Cammalleri, who scored his 13th goal of this postseason on Thursday night. Nobody else in the tournament has reached double digits in goals yet. He has four goals in his past five games. Philadelphia’s Simon Gagne might give him a run for his money though. He has been back from injury for seven games and has 7 goals in that span. Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik had a night to remember in Game 3, earning the game’s first star for a two-assist, plus-four outing in a little more than 23 minutes of action.
Injury report -- Speculation continues to build that Flyer forward Ian Laperriere could return for Game 4. He has been out since Game 5 of Round 1, suffering from a brain contusion. He has been skating for the past 8 days and was cleared for contact on Monday. Friday, he skated with the checking line -- Darroll Powe and Blair Betts -- in practice. Jeff Carter, coming back from a broken foot, is skating, but won’t play Saturday.
Montreal is healthy except for defenseman Andrei Markov, who underwent season-ending surgery Wednesday.
Stat pack -- Leighton not only lost for the first time in five career playoff starts, but gave up five goals for the first time as a Flyer this season. His personal shutout streak lasted 172 minutes and 55 seconds, second on the all-time Flyers list behind Brian Boucher's run in 2000. Montreal improved to 4-8 in non-elimination games, but is 5-0 in elimination contests. With three assists Thursday, PK Subban became just the third rookie defensemen in Montreal playoff history to notch three helpers in a game. The others were Roger Leger in 1947 (Game 4 at Boston) and Chris Chelios in 1985 (Game 3 at Quebec).
Puck drop -- The postseason is about pushing the opposition and pushing back when it pushes you. In the first two games, Philadelphia pushed Montreal to the brink of self-doubt. In Game 3, the Canadiens pushed back in stunning fashion, leaving the Flyers searching for answers and putting salve on their wounds.
Now it becomes a question of who will push hardest in Game 4. Will the Flyers rediscover their rhythm and return to physically dominating the smaller Canadiens?
"I'm hoping that's what we needed last night, a good lesson like that that's going to get back on the right track," Philadelphia forward Danny Briere said.
Or, has Montreal found a chink in Philadelphia’s armor by using its speed to dictate the pace of the game and forcing the Flyers into making turnovers?
"We were able to forecheck and you're able to get in there and get a hit before they get rid of the puck," Montreal forward Brian Gionta said in discussing the Game 3 successes. "So it comes, you know, along with your game. When you're playing good, when you're playing on your toes and forcing plays, you're able to get up and get those hits or be first on the puck and be able to win those battles."
Saturday afternoon, we find out which side is ready to do the pushing and which will allow itself to be pushed.
Five Keys to the Game: Habs-Flyers #4
Bob the builder