Canadiens-Flyers: Michael Leighton's Third Shutout Pushes Habs to Brink
Wow, was that the Habs from the playoffs or from the regular season?
While I know that yesterday's Game Four 3-0 loss by the Habs was a playoff game, it sure looked like the Jekyll and Hyde team that I remember from the regular season.
As has been the case all series long, the Habs came out of the gate determined to win. Their speed was engaged, they were forechecking and taking the play to the Flyers. The problem, for the Habs, is that they didn't score during the first ten minutes.
Marc-Andre Bergeron took a holding penalty at around the mid-point of the first. While the Flyers didn't score during the power play, they grabbed the momentum.
From that point out, it was Philly’s game as they outshot the Habs 13-1 in the second period and 25-17 overall.
As the Flyers took the lead, the Canadiens became a panicked bunch: rushing passes, going to low percentage shots, and struggling to get the puck into the Flyers' zone.
While Michael Leighton earned another shutout, he was not tested very much except for early in the first period.
The Flyers got two goals from Claude Giroux—one into an empty net—and one from Ville Leino.
Final score: Flyers 3-Habs 0. The Flyers lead the series 3-1 going into Game Five.
1. A tale of two goalies
Once again, Michael Leighton earned a shutout—his third of this series—and Jaroslav Halak got no offensive support from his team.
While Leighton made some good saves early in the first period, he wasn't really tested. As much as the Habs drove hard to the net in Game Three, they completely avoided the dirty areas yesterday and were rewarded with no goals.
As for Halak, he did what he had to do, stopping all but two shots by the Flyers. The problem, once again, was that his team did not score in front of him.
This is something we have seen far too often this season and the Habs have to try and correct it going into Game Five.
2. In a game of inches, two mistakes was all it took.
Yesterday's Game Four was the most tightly contested match between these two teams so far.
Every inch of the ice was under dispute and, until the Flyers opened the scoring, it was an outstanding chess match.
Ultimately, two mistakes did the Habs in and changed the complexion of the game.
The first was a terrible neutral ice giveaway by Maxim Lapierre that led to the first Claude Giroux goal. There was some bad luck on the play too, as Josh Gorges skate strap had come undone and he was unable to skate properly as a result.
The second was an offensive blueline turnover by P.K. Subban leading to a Leino breakaway and a 2-0 score.
From there, the Flyers hermetic defense kept the Habs to the outside and shut the door to earn the win.
3. Speaking of P.K.—that was his worst game yet.
He's a kid—young and exuberant but with a lot to learn. While Subban has shown periods of sheer brilliance, we all know that he will make mistakes given that he is a rookie.
Well, last night, was unfortunately one of his worst games in the NHL so far. P.K. made mistake after mistake including poor decisions with the puck, and ultimately caused a turnover leading to the second Flyers' goal.
As Subban skated to the Flyers' blueline he failed to dump the puck in and opted to try for a deke instead. The result was a turnover that Chris Pronger fired down to Leino for the breakaway.
That second goal really was the final nail in the Habs’ coffin, as the whole team seemed to slump after it.
4. Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta are great, but...
The Habs can't score.
It's been their problem all year long and their success so far this playoff season has been on the backs of Cammalleri and Gionta's scoring prowess.
Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Scott Gomez have now gone a combine 42 games without a goal between them.
That is simply not good enough.
While they do other good things on the ice, three out of their top-six players aren't scoring. Throw Benoit Pouliot's scoring droughts into the mix, and you only have two out of your top-six forwards who are scoring.
With stats like that, it is a wonder that the Habs have gotten as far as they have.
5. Philly ain't no Caps or Pens
You've got to give credit to the Flyers. They simply have a crushing amount of depth up front and the most solid top-four defensemen the Habs have faced so far in the playoffs.
Couple that with a coach—Peter Laviolette—who is outstanding at making in-game and post-game adjustments, and you have what looks like a team that is destined for the cup finals.
Not to mention that with the additions of Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter last night, they are getting healthy at exactly the right time.
Their own potential problem is the problem they have had for a decade, and that is suspect goaltending.
The Habs exposed Leighton in Game Three by going to the net, putting traffic in front of him, and generally making his life difficult. While the Habs have only done so in one out of four games, the Chicago Blackhawks—if they meet the Flyers in the final—will not return that favor.
Look Out Ahead!
How can you predict what we will see in Game Five on Monday from a team that is largely unpredictable?
The way the Canadiens have played, I would not be surprised to see them put in their best effort of the season and pull out the win, forcing a Game Six in Montreal.
If the Habs can do that, anything can happen.
With the veteran leadership on this team, I can't see them throwing in the towel and I think, like all of the game so far, that whoever scores the first goal will win the game.
The teams now fly back to Philadelphia for Game Five on Monday night. The Flyers hope to close out the series and, not wanting to come back to Montreal for a Game Six, are sure to bring their best effort yet.
What kind of game will the Canadiens bring? Can they force a Game Six? Do they have anything left in the tank?
In a little more than a day, we will find out.
NOTE : The Habs are currently 5-0 in elimination games. Let's see if they can keep the streak going on Monday!
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