The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-0, taking a three games to one series lead in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Series. Here are some observations.
- The Flyers again deployed the Michael Raffl-Nate Thompson-Tyler Pitlick line to start the game, the same unit that got the assignment in Game Three. After that, head coach Alain Vigneault deployed a line juggling strategy throughout the game, which saw Raffl ascend to the top unit, Claude Giroux drop to center a line with Derek Grant slotted to the right with Scott Laughton, Joel Farabee move to Laughton’s spot-on Kevin Hayes line. You might have some thought that Vigneault was looking to cause match-up issues for the Canadiens or perhaps he was budgeting ice time as the Flyers were in the middle of three games in four day’s stretch, but he insisted that wasn’t the case.
“No,” Vigneault said. “Nate’s a good faceoff guy. Raffy and Tyler were good forecheckers. I just thought that first faceoff of the game, let’s just try to get in deep and get our forechecking game going. We made a few little subtle changes to our lines. At the end of the day, the game is still about hard work and executing.
“Both teams right now are battling extremely hard. I thought that obviously getting that first goal and getting some big defensive plays like blocked shots and good second efforts on our part enabled us to stop Montreal who’s a high speed and skill team.”
- Word got out early on Tuesday that the Flyers would be making lineup changes heading into Game Four. After three nondescript games, James van Riemsdyk sat in favor of Farabee, while Connor Bunnaman drew in for Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
The van Riemsdyk scratch didn’t come as a massive surprise. If you’ll recall Game Three’s 10 Flyers Thoughts, his performances practically warranted it. Whether he’ll be back in the line-up for Game Five remains to be seen. If JvR isn’t scoring, he has to contribute in other ways. Considering he wasn’t an answer for the power play’s continued struggles, it pretty much became the only option, at least for this contest.
Aube-Kubel had absorbed some Montreal rockets while shot-blocking in Game Three, most notably a Xavier Ouellet blast off the toe of his right skate late in the contest. The rookie forward has done a good job playing on third-line right wing with Grant, providing aggressive forechecking.
- The Canadiens have been the picture of airtight coverage throughout the playoffs, but the Flyers had their best period in terms of pace of play, clean zone exits, and taking advantage of some uncharacteristically careless puck management, none more evident that on Philadelphia’s first goal. A turnover given up at their own blue line saw Jake Voracek fire a fast-cross ice pass to Sean Couturier, who drop passed the puck to Raffl who fired a seed over Carey Price’s blocker. As goalie analyst and former Flyers goalie Martin Biron pointed out on Twitter, Price seemed lined up more with the player than the puck, giving up space over his shoulder that the Austrian found.
- Philadelphia’s second goal was the first time in the series that Price gave up that looked eminently stoppable. After picking up the puck out of a deep zone scrum, center Kevin Hayes found a streaking Travis Konecny who passed the puck to defenseman Phil Myers. As Myers went wide of Habs defenseman Brett Kulak, he flipped the puck towards the net that ticked off him and knuckled. Price decided to steer it with his paddle, and it caromed past him and into the net at 17:04 of the second period.
“I was just trying to put it on net,” Myers said. “I think it was Kulak there who was trying to get a stick on the puck. I just tried to avoid his stick and put it on net. Got lucky and got a good bounce. I’ll take it.”
It would prove to be the backbreaker for the Canadiens who had a stronger second period but had nothing to show for it.
- The story of the game was written in where the play went whenever the Canadiens possessed the puck. They got better as the game went on in the puck retrieval department, but once they entered Philadelphia’s end, they ended up pancaked along the boards and were limited to perimeter chances that weren’t going to affect an on-his-game Carter Hart.
- Hart didn’t need to have the same performance as in Game 3 because of the vice grip hold the Flyers had over the middle of the ice. He truly benefitted from a lockbox performance. That said, when the Habs did get their chances, he relied on his superior positioning to keep them at bay. As a result, he finished with a 23 save performance and became the third goalie in Flyers’ history to earn back to back postseason shutouts (Bernie Parent, 1975 and Michael Leighton, 2010). He’s also the second youngest goalie in NHL history to do so (the youngest was Harry Lumley of the Detroit Red Wings, in 1945).
“There’s no doubt that Carter’s a huge part of this,” Vigneault said. “We’re not playing perfect hockey. Without out a doubt, when we do make mistakes, he’s been able to get that big save for us.”
- Giroux continues to do yeoman work in leading by example in his defensive play and creating opportunities for his teammates, but as has been mentioned in many quarters, he remains stymied goal scoring wise and might be losing confidence in his shooting, as noted by NBC Sports Philly analyst Bill Clement. Enough so that he passed up shooting on a two on one in the third period when he had the better angle
- Philadelphia dominated in the faceoff circle with a 65 percent success rate. Couturier (74%) and Giroux (71%) led the way.
- For all the discussion of the Flyers line juggling, Kirk Muller sent out 10 different line combinations (per Natural Stat Trick) throughout the game as he tried what he could to find the right button to push to ignite his team’s offense. Instead, since their five-goal outburst in Game Two, their guns have gone silent for nearly 130 minutes. If you started the series stating the Canadiens would be outscoring the Flyers 6-5 in the series, you certainly wouldn’t assume they would be down three games to one, but here we are.
- Bravest play of the game? Unquestionably Thompson’s third-period block on a Shea Weber shot, one of three blocked shots he was credited with, along with a 60 percent faceoff percentage. In many ways, the fourth liner embodies how the Flyers are winning this series as the former Hab helped to set the tone in the role he’s in.
As Raffl, a fellow Weber shot blocker said, “If you can, maybe break up the play before that. I can’t say it’s a lot of joy or fun jumping in front of that bomb. Got to be smarter a little bit before if you can. If not, you have to eat it.”
Sound like a good time, right? …. Right?