Flyers teach Habs tough lesson
The Flyers played about as well as you can in their 3-0 victory at Montreal
Philadelphia took a page from Montreal's Game 3 playbook and it paid dividends
Now we'll see if the Habs can prevail on the road, with their season in the balance
|(7) Flyers vs. (8) Habs|
|Flyers lead 3-1|
|Game 5: @ PHI Mon. May 24, 7 p.m., VERSUS|
|Game 6: @ MON Wed. May 26, 7 p.m.*, VERSUS|
|Game 7: @ PHI Fri. May 28, 7 p.m.*, VERSUS|
There's no textbook that explains how to play a perfect postseason road game.
But, as anyone who watched the Flyers dismantle the Canadiens Saturday afternoon can attest, there might now be a video.
Rebounding from a disappointing performance in Game 3, Philadelphia put the Habs in a 3-1 headlock with a convincing 3-0 victory at Montreal's Bell Centre.
Their goaltending was good, as you might expect from Philly's third whitewashing in four contests, but stopper Michael Leighton will be the first to admit that he wasn't the story in Game 4. This was all about the team's ability to make adjustments and having the discipline to execute them with nearly flawless precision.
The Canadiens had dominated Game 3, thanks to a lethal combination of team speed, a ferocious forecheck and a timely presence in front of Leighton. Going by the opening minutes of this contest, it looked like the Flyers were up against more of the same. The Habs fed off the energy of the raucous crowd -- is there a better atmosphere for playoff hockey than the Bell Centre? -- and had their legs moving early, banging the boards and crashing the net and creating havoc in the Philly zone. For a moment, it even looked as though Tomas Plekanec had opened the scoring after he pounced on a rebound in front of Leighton and slipped it between the goalie's pads, only to see the puck slide through the crease and harmlessly past the post.
That might have been their one chance. It wasn't long after that the momentum shifted decidedly in Philadelphia's favor. And the trick was adopting Montreal's successful Game 3 approach. Instead of the Canadiens chipping it in, chasing it down and creating chances off the forecheck, it was the Flyers who began to hem the Habs in their own zone, dictating the tone with their hustle and physical play.
They also dominated in the face-off circle, with Claude Giroux winning 11-of-16 and Mike Richards taking 11-of-18. And when the Habs entered the zone with the puck, they effectively clogged the lanes, taking away the passing options and forcing the Canadiens shooters to launch low-percentage shots that rarely made their way to the net. A late flurry lifted their total to 17 shots (including just one in the second period) ... but that was still 10 fewer than Philly's defenders were credited with blocking.
"That seems to be the key when it comes to playoff hockey," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said afterward. "Blocked shots, [winning] faceoffs and hits. It's the little things you do defensively that wins hockey games."
And the big things, too ... like cutting back on the turnovers that killed them Thursday night. "We definitely made better decisions with the puck," said Chris Pronger. "We didn't want to give them anything."
By the time the second period started, the Flyers were in complete control. They silenced the home crowd with the methodical style that led to a 13-1 shot advantage and kept the Habs pinned in their zone. The Canadiens' defenders, so effective in transition in Game 3, were reduced to banging the puck off the glass or worse, coughing it up under pressure.
That's what led to the only goal Philly would need. Josh Gorges, hobbled both by a skate problem and an overly long shift, failed to clear the zone. The puck ended up with Giroux, who quietly is using these playoffs to establish himself as a star-caliber performer. He blew by the one-legged Gorges and drove in hard on Halak before lifting a wrister high over his right shoulder at the 5:41 mark.
Ville Leino, acquired in a salary dump from Detroit for minor leaguer Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and a fifth-rounder in 2011, continued his spectacular run nine minutes later with his fourth of the postseason. He converted on a breakaway chance created when Pronger pounced on a P.K. Subban turnover and set up the winger with a beautiful 100-foot pass that he slid past the outstretched leg of Halak.
That was just part of Subban's rough afternoon. The rookie turned the puck over at several inopportune moments and struggled to hold the line on the power play.
"He's a young kid who wants to do well," coach Jacques Martin said. "He has his heart in the right place. It's a learning experience for him. He's got to be patient and make the right decision."
Meanwhile Pronger offered up his most complete game of the postseason, soaking up more than 31 minutes of ice and establishing a dominant physical presence in his own zone. It was the sort of performance that highlights the boldness of his acquisition last summer, and leaves Canadiens fans to wonder how different things might have been if their own No. 1 defender, Andrei Markov, had been available for the series.
So now the Flyers are one game away from the Stanley Cup Final; the Habs are one loss away from summer vacation. There's been little evidence on the ice to suggest Montreal has a comeback in it, but this is a team that battled back from a 3-1 series deficit against against Washington in the first round and a 3-2 hole against Pittsburgh in the second.
Despite his frustration, Martin believes his team has at least one more miracle in it.
"We know how we have to play," the coach said. "We just need certain areas of our game to be better."
It won't be easy to make those adjustments going into the Wachovia Center, where they failed to score a goal in Games 1 and 2. But there's one bright side to needing to win their next game on the road.
They've seen first-hand how it's supposed to be done.