After a performance to forget in their lackluster Game 3 loss, the Philadelphia Flyers needed a bounce back game, and they needed it fast. This Game 4 is a pivotal one, with the difference between a 2-2 and a 3-1 series being monumental. A loss here would take away all the hard work from the first two games, turning it into an abbreviated best-of-three series in which Montreal holds the momentum. This team wasn’t going to let that happen.
The Flyers came out with one of their best first periods of the series, though they didn’t have much to live up to. The Canadiens matched them pretty well, however. Each team played a hard checking, up tempo style as the two teams exchanged quality scoring chances.
Michael Leighton made some sturdy saves and kept his team alive, ending the first period with a scoreless tie.
The second period, the Flyers best throughout these playoffs, saw them step up their game to the best we’ve seen of them in these Eastern Conference Finals. A complete team effort, from the first line to the fourth, the Flyers shut down the Canadiens. They clogged up the neutral zone, forcing them to play a dump and chase game, lest they turn the puck over.
The Flyers, in a far cry from Game 3, were able to move their feet and effectively beat the Montreal forecheck to clear pucks. Previously, that forecheck had left the Flyers stunned, turning pucks over and handing the Canadiens scoring chances one after another. This game saw none of that.
That ability to turn pucks around quickly and create offense from the play of their defense led to the Flyers two goals during the period. The first came when Claude Giroux, taking advantage of a skate malfunction that left defenseman Josh Gorges unable to pivot, cut around the Montreal defenders on a one man fast break and beat Jarosalv Halak from in tight.
The next was the result of a turnover by rookie defenseman PK Subban as he tried to carry the puck across the Flyers blue line. Having left his post, Ville Leino found himself uncovered behind enemy lines. Chris Pronger, master of the breakout pass, fed him with a cross ice bullet to spring a breakaway and a beautiful move to beat Halak for a 2-0 lead.
Montreal’s first shot of the middle frame came with less than seven minutes remaining. It was to be their only one of the period. This stat is a testament to the Flyers ability to slow the Canadiens down with a hard forecheck, and then turn around and beat them back to their own blue line and clog the ice up there as well. Chris Pronger and Matt Carle proved especially useful, reaching their sticks into the paths of countless Montreal shots.
After such a dominant period, the Flyers were content to play a less aggressive third period, dumping the puck the instant they hit the red line. If the Canadiens were going to skate the puck up, the Flyers were going to make them go the distance.
Going back to Philadelphia having stolen one on the road and looking the close out the series, the Flyers will certainly bring their best game. They of all teams know what happens when you let the opponent linger around and fail to wrap up a series. The mistake that Boston made against them, and that the Capitals made against Montreal, shall not be repeated by this Philadelphia team.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Matt Carle / Chris Pronger: After combining for a minus 6 and all around failing to slow down an aggressive Canadiens team in Game 3, this shut down D pair kept Montreal from getting anything going all day long. They blocked shots with ease, slowed their opponents down long enough for the backchecking forwards to enter the play, and were often seen contributing on offense; Matt Carle with his consistent pinching, and Chris Pronger with his deadly accurate breakout passes. This pair turned their game around and the team was all the better for it.
Jeff Carter / Ian Laperriere: Both returning from injury, Jeff Carter with a broken toe and Ian Laperriere with a concussion and broken orbital bone, these two made an impact immediately. Jeff Carter played on a wing alongside Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, in place of Dan Carcillo. Carter made his presence felt early, laying a heavy neutral zone hit on Dominic Moore on his first shift. Laperriere was consistent throughout, with his usual brand of gritty shutdown hockey.
Tenacity: It always comes back to the words Bob Kelly spoke to me before the Flyers’ Game 4 win against Boston. His key to success in that, and frankly any playoff game: “Hard work and guts”. The Flyers brought it. And it showed. They beat the Canadiens to every loose puck, beat them in the corners, and maintained constant control of the puck. This dominance breeds wins. That’s for certain.
Faceoffs: An area that the Flyers have struggled with from time to time in these playoffs, they instead found a way to dominate throughout this game. Not only did they win the vast majority of faceoffs, but they won the meaningful ones. Whether it meant gaining puck control on a power play or keeping the Canadiens from gaining control in the offensive zone, the Flyers were on top of it.