Jaroslav Halak has made a big name for himself in the Canadiens goal
Chris Pronger and the Flyers should have the physical edge in the series
The Canadiens' defense has succeeded in slowing two powerful offenses thus far
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Philadelphia (7) vs. Montreal (8)
How the Canadiens Can Win: Jaroslav Halak keeps living the dream. He might yet reveal himself to be the next Steve Penney, but for the moment, Halak is in full-on Ken Dryden mode, stopping everything he should and most that he shouldn't. The early favorite for the Conn Smythe, Halak was key to bottling up two of the league's most potent offenses through the first two rounds. Now he'll face a group that has some nice weapons in Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Danny Briere, but nothing to match the nuclear options of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. If he can keep up his intensity against a lesser challenge, the Habs will advance to the Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
How the Flyers Can Win: Stellar goaltending, disciplined play and a monster series from Chris Pronger. They may have won two rounds, but let's not forget that Philly was skin-of-their-teeth just to make the postseason. This team needs everything to go right to advance, starting with another sensational series from Pronger. His experience and stature gives him a sizable advantage over Montreal's Smurf-like forwards. That said, he and the rest of the Flyers need to avoid trying to blast them through the boards at every opportunity. This is a team that can get carried away trying to prove how physical it can be. Discipline will be key, especially if they hope to avoid giving Montreal's dangerous power play too many sniffs. And then there's Michael Leighton. He salvaged a regular season in ruins, but this is his first trip to the playoff rodeo. He can't stumble under that weight.
Key Performer: Leighton. The Philly netminder looked every inch a player who'd missed 21 games in the early going of Game 7 against the Bruins, appearing shaky while allowing three goals in the first 14:10. If Peter Laviolette had a reasonable option on his bench, he might have been tempted to change goalies before the start of the second. He didn't, so Leighton returned, settled down, and stopped every shot the B's threw at him in the second and third to power the Flyers to that momentous victory. That had to do wonders for the confidence of the waiver wire pickup, but let's be honest: those Bruins shooters couldn't hit a cow at a rodeo. The Canadiens aren't exactly diverse offensively, but they'll provide a stiffer test. Leighton's ability to meet that challenge will dictate the results of this series.
Keep an Eye On: The Canadiens' defense. Not to take anything away from Halak, but he's just the face of Montreal's postseason success story. Like an acclaimed actor who would be nowhere without his writers, Halak's heroics have been crafted on a ferociously effective defensive effort. Josh Gorges and Hall Gill have made their names shutting down Ovechkin and Crosby. P.K. Subban has been a revelation, clocking heavy minutes and stepping up in the final moments of tight games. Even Roman Hamrlik, almost unplayable down the stretch and into the first round, has remembered how to play and made an important contribution. They'll be spread thin against Philly's offense-by-committee, but if they can hold the line, the Habs will advance.
X-Factor: Andrei Markov. As well as that blueline performed in the Pittsburgh series, it would look a whole lot better with its best player back in action. Markov, who hasn't played since the injuring his knee in the opener against the Pens, skated in full gear at practice on Friday and looks like he could play a role in this series. They could certainly use his steady presence both five-on-five and on the power play, where he scored 16 of his 34 points in 45 regular season games. When he returns, however, and how healthy he'll be, remains up in the air.
Prediction: Montreal in six
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