Not even 24 hours after the emotional dethroning of the NHL leading Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers found themselves almost 500 miles away preparing to face a well-rested Montreal Canadiens team – one that has had time to prepare for this game both mentally and physically. But the Flyers, who held a record of 3-1-2 in the second half of these back-to-back trips, understand how to handle the travel and exhaustion and come out with a win nonetheless.
The Canadiens did everything they could to wear the Flyers down, and the Flyers played a careful game of bend but don’t break. They didn’t stretch the game and spread their defense thin, instead choosing to stay at home. This gave the Canadiens the outside shot through most of the night, but Sergei Bobrovsky – making his first start in a week – swallowed these up with ease and minimized rebound chances.
The stars of the night ended up being the threesome of James van Riemsdyk, Nikolay Zherdev, and Jeff Carter. This newly formed line – put together due to the suspension to Jody Shelley – made the Canadiens pay for their mistakes throughout the evening on the way to a 5-3 win.
In the first, while the Flyers were still able to skate with Montreal, Jeff Carter capitalized with a quick burst of speed around a defender and a move to beat Carey Price. Carter hooked up with JVR in the second period to increase the Flyers’ lead to 2-0. This was where Montreal took over control of play.
After minutes of pressure that left the Flyers scrambling around their own zone, unable to keep up, Chris Pronger took a hooking minor to put them down a man. During a post whistle scrum, Braydon Coburn took a roughing penalty and left his team down two men.
P.K. Subban made the Flyers pay when he blew a one timer past Bobrovsky to cut the deficit in half.
The Canadiens continued their assault in the third, throwing bodies and out hustling the Flyers – who were visibly exhausted. But the Flyers continued to give ground where they could afford it and stay solid where they had to. With the defenses best efforts combined with Bobrovsky’s impressive play, Montreal was kept off the board while Nikolay Zherdev took a puck end-to-end and snuck it past Price.
But a pair of unwelcome Canadiens goals in the next few minutes – Tomas Plekanec jamming home a rebound and a Brian Gionta five hole shot – tied the game at 3 apiece.
The Flyers’ chances looked grim – backed up against a wall, on their heels, their lead gone, with the Canadiens coming at them. But they managed to hold on, and when their chance came to capitalize on another Canadiens mistake, they made the Habs pay.
James van Riemsdyk kept his stick on the ice when he crashed the net following up a 2-on-1 rush by Zherdev and Carter. The initial chance left a rebound that was swept away by Roman Hamrlik – right onto the stick of JVR. With barely a flick of the wrist, the puck was in the back of the net and the Flyers’ lead was back.
In a moment of poetic justice, P.K. Subban turned the puck over to Mike Richards, who dished it low to Claude Giroux. Giroux cut across the front and reached back to slide the puck underneath a sprawling Carey Price for a 5-3 lead – a score which the Flyers held on to for the win.
After ending the Penguins’ streak on Tuesday in a game that had all the makings and emotion of a playoff contest, it seemed far too easy – and far too typical for the Flyers – to play this game hungover. Instead, despite tired legs and bruised bodies, they played the kind of game they needed to win.
This ability to change their style to fit their capabilities – and even just to know and accept that they weren’t capable of keeping up with Montreal all night – shows the dedicated, veteran presence that this Flyers team brings to the ice. That’s the kind of play that wins championships, and that’s just what this team is striving for.
The only bad news to come out of the win is a mysterious “lower body” injury to Chris Pronger that forced him to leave the game in the third period.
There’s more information available now, so here’s an update. As it turns out, the injury is not related to the knee problems that plagued him during the offseason and kept him out of the lineup to start the year. Instead, it’s being reported that Pronger hurt his foot after taking a shot.
The injury caused him to miss the entire third period, but how much time he will miss after this is has yet to be seen – Pronger is being evaluated by team doctors today where we’ll get word of how serious this injury really is.
Until then, assume he will miss some time, and Oskars Bartulis will dress for his chance to play.