Philadelphia Flyers-Montreal Canadiens: Habs Outwit, Outlasted, Outplayed
Montreal 0 Philadelphia 3 (Bell Centre) Flyers lead the series 3-1.
"Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat." —F. Scott Fitzgerald
Peter Laviolette is a smart coach. On the off day on Friday, Laviolette tasked his players to pass along organizational messages to the media. Philadelphia complained about being shortchanged by the officiating in Game Three, particularly Josh Gorges's elbow to the mouth of Claude Giroux.
Whether or not the coach's strategy was effective is open to conjecture, but the Canadiens did not receive a power-play opportunity until the third period.
Canadiens were also on the defensive for so-called poor sportsmanship as Mike Richards whined about the Habs' first power-play unit being on the ice at the end of the game.
But in addition to the communication offensive, Laviolette broke down film identifying several areas for improvement.
Your Montreal Canadiens had a good start to this game and even had the upper hand on the Flyers, for about 10 minutes this afternoon. Shots were 5-to-2, with the Habs attacking with speed. The Bell Centre crowd was loud but seemed on edge.
Marc-Andre Bergeron took a penalty for holding and the tide seemed to turn. It wasn't because the Flyers scored, because they didn't. It was just one of those penalties where the Habs looked outmatched.
Slowly, Philadelphia started to take over the period like an angler reeling in his catch. Specifically, the Flyers began to choke off the neutral zone.
The first period ended with scoring chances at 2-2. In the intermission, Laviolette tweaked his gameplan and his team tightened the noose further. By controlling the space between the blue lines, Laviolette knew it would eliminate Canadiens' transition scoring chances.
Jacques Martin had no response. The Habs were unable to mount any attack and ended the second period with one shot, a weak one by Max Lapierre.
"We were pretty tight defensively," Laviolette said. "We didn't allow a lot of opportunities. The neutral zone was really tight, which eliminates rush opportunities."
For their part the Flyers scored two opportunistic goals taking advantage of mistakes by the Canadiens, namely giveaways by Lapierre and P.K. Subban. Straps on the Kevlar skate guards were also partly to blame as a loose one impeded Gorges' inability to make a play.
Scoring first in the playoffs has been crucial for Montreal throughout the playoffs, giving them a 8-2 record. When trailing first they have only managed one victory in eight games.
Following this pattern, the Canadiens managed only nine shots in the third period but none dangerous. While Michael Leighton was credited with the shutout, there was little for him to do. For most of the game he could have lounged in a hammock texting with his parents, who were on hand as part of the 21,273 Bell Centre crowd.
While the Habs had three power-plays in the final frame they could only manage one shot on goal for the first two opportunities. They are now 1-for-16 with the man advantage in the past four games.
For the most part, referees Stephen Walkom and Kelly Sutherland were inclined to let the teams play. It was a disadvantage for the Canadiens, who were slowed by Flyers' interference. More serious infractions also went uncalled, such as James Van Riemsdyk with a stick to the face of Brian Gionta, Chris Pronger boarding Scott Gomez, and Mike Richards's blind side head shot to Hal Gill.
Philadelphia played the left-wing lock to perfection. As a result, the Flyers were able to dictate play for the majority of the game.
As Gomez said, "You gotta give them credit. We couldn't get the flow going."
About 53 minutes into the game, the Canadiens had not reached 10 shots on goal. When Lapierre leads the team in shots, the Habs aren't going to win many games. Mike Cammalleri was the worst of the top six forwards. Despite playing 24 minutes, he only managed one shot and had a minus-2 rating.
Canadiens' centers were abysmal at the faceoff dot. Gomez, Plekanec and Moore ended the day at 27, 26, and 25 percent, respectively.
Philadelphia blogs and discussion boards have already moved on to discuss a Stanley Cup final against Chicago. The Canadiens must focus on winning a single game.
The Habs have not scored in 9-of-12 periods in the series. On Monday, they must score first, preferably before the game is ten minutes old. They must use speed to beat the Flyers' defense and dictate play. The Canadiens are 5-0 in elimination games this playoff season.
Game Five will take place on Monday night at the Wachovia Center.
Rocket's three stars
1. Claude Giroux
2. Chris Pronger
3. Ville Leino
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
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