Flyers' momentum kick in playoffs bolstered by anemic, passive Habs
Michael Leighton's roll in goal comes from confidence and Philly's solid defense
Leighton is the first Flyers goalie to post back-to-back playoff shutouts since 1975
Habs coach Jacques Martin should consider starting goalie Carey Price in Game 3
|(7) Flyers vs. (8) Habs|
|Flyers lead 2-0|
|Game 3: @ MON Thur., May 20, 7 p.m., VERSUS|
|Game 4: @ MON Sat., May 22, 3 p.m., NBC|
|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|
PHILADELPHIA -- The Flyers' formula for success hasn't changed much: Oversleep the opening faceoff, deferring all early-game calls to your goalie. Catch a good bounce or two. Get a sniper to pick a corner. Knock the opposition into next weekend for a few shifts. Raise your sticks to another victory. Exhale. How'd you do that again?
By any measure, the formula is working for Philadelphia. On Tuesday night, the Flyers won their sixth straight playoff game, dousing the Canadiens, 3-0 and taking a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference final series which moves to Montreal on Thursday night. The Flyers have scored 13 straight goals and haven't given one up one since falling behind Boston (3-0) in the first period of Game 7 in the previous series. Goaltender Michael Leighton made 30 saves in recording his second straight shutout. For a guy who might have been his team's third-stringer -- if his goalie mates were healthy -- Leighton's run has been amazing. He hasn't allowed a goal since Boston's Milan Lucic beat him at 14:10 of the first period last Friday.
For most of the game, the Flyers' strong defense and the Canadiens' inability to get to the front of the net made it easier for Leighton than shot totals would indicate, but his play in the first period was solid. Thanks largely to three power plays, including another on a bench minor for too many men, the postseason infraction of choice, the Canadiens outshot the Flyers, 14-3, over the game's first 14 minutes. That protected a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by sniper Danny Briere.
The goal was the ninth of the playoffs for Briere, who is firing with a true scorer's confidence. On that goal, Briere snagged a loose puck in the high slot and had a fair scoring angle to rip a shot against Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak. Instead, he hesitated slightly and darted half a stride to his right before releasing the shot. That move accomplished two things: It freed Briere's shot from the long reach of Hal Gill's stick that was swinging in his direction and gave Briere a better, if subtle, angle around Halak, who was perfectly set for the initial shot.
For the next 10 minutes, the story was in the Flyers net. "Michael Leighton saved our game in the first period," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "We gave up way too many scoring chances and we got dominated. One player stood on his head, and we were able to chip one in with Danny's goal. You don't want to roll those dice too many times."
Following a better finish to the final minutes of the first period, the Flyers' persistence in the offensive zone provided a second power-play goal, at 15:49 of the second. After Simon Gagne tapped the puck behind the Habs net, the Flyers went to work on cycling the puck around Montreal's net. With bodies swarming in front of him, Halak knocked the puck back into the slot, instead of smothering it. Gagne then got another whack at the loose puck and potted Philadelphia's second goal.
Midway through the third, Halak let in a softy shortly after his team killed another penalty. Ville Leino zinged a wrist shot from a horrible angle between the left faceoff dot and sideboards. Halak waved his glove at and seemed stunned when it went behind him. Even Leino continued skating into the play before actually realizing the puck had gone in.
Indeed Halak seemed to be undone. At one point, with just under seven minutes left in the third period, as the Flyers wound the puck around the offensive boards, Halak slowly backed up into his crease and simply caught and edge and fell over backward. Given the way Halak looked at the end of the game, it isn't inconceivable that Habs coach Jacques Martin, who pulled his goalie in Game 1, might opt to go back to Carey Price on Thursday. He did not address that issue after the game.
There were no such issues with Leighton, who could become the first Flyers goalie to forge three straight playoff shutouts. Still, the shot total of 30 was misleading in one sense. Although Leighton's emergence is legit and his confidence is obvious, his defense did two things to keep most of the shots from overwhelming him: They cleared most of his rebounds and sacrificed shots from the outside, in return for being able to clog the middle and get in the way of Montreal's forwards.
Leighton's best save may have come during a Canadiens power play in third period when Montreal worked the puck back to P.K. Subban in the middle of the ice. With Scott Gomez screening him in front, Leighton looked around the screen, pulling himself to the side, and gloved Subban's slapper out of the air.
Listen to Martin after the game and a read-between-the-lines will show a respectful, but less effusive view of Leighton's performance. "I'm surprised we haven't scored," Martin said. "We need to do a better job in certain areas. We have to find better ways to get better net presence. We spent a lot more time in their zone tonight [than in Game 1], but we need to make some adjustments for Game 3." After a 6-0 loss on Sunday and a 3-0 whiff on Tuesday, the Canadiens now have their first double bagel in the postseason in three decades, and their futility is making an opportunistic goalie look like a fortified wall.