MONTREAL – Like they did on Thursday, they summoned the ghosts here at the Bell Centre, hoping to rekindle the magic of Canadiens past.
And yet, there is no ghost, no matter how holy or legendary they may be, with an answer for 17 lackluster shots on net, getting outplayed in all three phases of the game, or those big burly bodies dressed in orange and black that managed to block 27 shots in front of a goalie who hasn’t allowed a goal in 11 of his last 14 periods.
So here in the wild and wacky Eastern Conference playoffs, where the unpredictable has become the norm, the seventh seeded Flyers have a three games to one series lead over the eighth seeded Canadiens, just enough room to breathe, but not enough room to breathe easy.
“If you think it’s going to be easy when we go home for Game 5, think again,” Kimmo Timonen said. “It’s not going to be easy. We can enjoy this tonight, but we have to focus on Monday’s game tomorrow.”
There is no question both clubs understand the difficulties of winning that fourth game, with both clubs having successfully fought off the grim reaper five times over the last two months. Montreal festering off the Capitals after trailing 3-1 and winning Game 6 and 7 against Pittsburgh. The Flyers becoming just the third team in NHL history to win a series down 3-0, this after needing a shootout victory on the final day of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs in the first place.
“For quite some time now, this team has always answered a challenge, and they’ve always answered a bell,” Flyers Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “But again, before we leave this rink we need to dismiss it, get rid of it and start focusing and get ready because there’s just too much at stake.”
You want stats? Montreal has been held scoreless in three of the four games in this series. They managed just one shot in the second period on Saturday afternoon, while the Flyers continued their dominance of the middle frame, outscoring opponents by a 24-7 margin throughout these playoffs.
“We didn’t get the puck in deep in the second period,” Canadiens Head Coach Jacques Martin said. “We turned the puck over numerous times. We played in what you call a danger zone if you ask me.”
“Your own blue line, you’ve got to get pucks out and in the offensive zone you’ve got to get pucks in deep.”
This game didn’t turn in the second period, but once the Flyers were able to withstand Montreal’s initial pressure off of the opening draw. The dreaded 10 minute wave, as the ‘experts’ call it, ending when Marc Andre Bergeron was caught holding Claude Giroux behind the net, sending the Habs into retreat mode, as the Flyers placed a Vulcan death grip on the game and the series.
Jeff Carter took four shots in nearly 14 minutes of play, his first action in 11 games due to a foot injury, none more dangerous than a wrist shot in open ice that Halak gloved as the game started to slip away from the guys in front of him.
And when Hal Gill laid his 6’7” frame on the goal line to prevent Daniel Briere from putting home a loose puck, it was only a matter of time before the Flyers physical play was able to solve the Halak puzzle.
Ironically enough, a goaltender that has been so good under the microscope of this city’s obsession with ice, had his biggest problems with a pair of pucks he could clearly see.
Giroux put the Flyers on the board just under six minutes into the second, breaking in to the side and beating the aforementioned Gill and Josh Georges with his speed. And Ville Leino made it 2-0 with 5:07 left in the period when he walked in alone, unchallenged, beating Halak short-side.
And that quickly, it was over.
“We knew what we needed to do today,” Leino said of his clubs effort. “We were on the right side of the puck, we were able to create opportunities. We were able to do the little things we needed to win.”
You wouldn’t believe it by looking at the stat sheet, but Montreal had five of the game’s first seven shots, with any and all attempts after that futile and far between. Travis Moen couldn’t convert on a Maxim Lapierre centering pass, Mike Cammalleri, who has had the magic touch all spring, launching an opportunity from the faceoff circle high over Michael Leighton’s head. And a pair of missed Power Play opportunities in the third period when Matt Carle got called for delay of game and Aaron Asham for goaltender interference.
The Habs best play may have come protecting their own goal line, not just with Gill effort in the first, but when Marc Andre Bergeron dove, stick extended to prevent an empty net goal with 1:51 left in the third period, drawing heaps of applause from a very disappointed partisan crowd.
Montreal will need that same type of desperation on Monday if they hope to come home for Game 6. While the Flyers know the last thing they want to deal with is another trip north of the border.
“We have to be careful,” Flyers forward Daniel Briere said. “If there’s a team that would know that it’s us with what we were able to do in the previous round to the Bruins, and also what Montreal did to Washington and Pittsburgh.”