The Philadelphia Flyers claimed they were disgraced and upset with the pounding they took Thursday night at Bell Centre. The Canadiens came at them a far different team than the Flyers had seen in Philadelphia. The Habs were finishing their checks, scoring past Michael Leighton, and buzzing around the Flyers on a consistent basis. Oh, and they were running their mouths at the Flyers, something that irked many members of the Orange and Black.
It’s safe to say the Flyers made a statement Saturday afternoon in Montreal.
The Orange and Black rode Michael Leighton to his third shutout of this series, and silenced an absolutely raucous Bell Centre crowd to the tune of a convincing 3-0 victory. The Flyers now lead the series three games to one and are just one win away from making the franchise’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1997 – when they were promptly swept right out by the Detroit Red Wings. This season has been all about overcoming adversity, and proving the naysayers wrong at various points of the campaign, while all at the same time living up to heavy expectations that were placed on the team at training camp. Now, the Flyers are one more win from fulfilling the first half of many preseason predictions.
Game Four started out very different from Game Three. The Flyers were buzzing in the Montreal end early, and made sure to get pucks to the net and make life once again difficult for Jaroslav Halak. Their defensive play was much more crisp, as each time the Habs made their way into the Flyers zone, they were forced to the outside and usually finished along the boards. If they looked to make a play towards the middle, there usually was a Flyer that was back-checking in the area. Of course, the first period was even more of a confidence boost for the Flyers as they welcomed the return of Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter from what had previously been thought to have been season-ending injuries. Still, the Flyers suddenly had a full roster, something they hadn’t fully seen since round one against New Jersey. After a strong first period, the second frame was when the Flyers really got clicking.
When the second period began, the Flyers began to dominate. It started when the Flyers had four shots on Halak in the first 30 seconds. The period ended with the shots for the stanza heavily in favor of the Flyers, 13-1. Claude Giroux would cash in on one of the Flyers’ earlier shots in the period, taking a pass in transition in the neutral zone from Kimmo Timonen, and racing into the Montreal zone. From that point, Giroux blew by Josh Gorges and made a nifty little backhand-to-forehand deke and roofed the puck over the shoulder of Jaroslav Halak to make the score 1-0 in favor of the Flyers. The Orange and Black were not done in the second, as with just over five minutes to play in the second, the Flyers got a back-breaking goal from Ville Leino, who was sprung on a breakaway off a fantastic cross-ice bomb from Chris Pronger. Leino walked in on Halak and quickly changed the puck to his backhand at the last second, sneaking it right past Halak’s pad and into the back of the net to stun the Bell Centre crowd. The Flyers took the 2-0 lead into the locker room and their confidence level was high.
As Kimmo Timonen put it, the Flyers “sat back” in the third period, but it was in a good way. They were still just as aggressive in the defensive end as they had been all game, stifling many Montreal attack opportunities before they even got started. Michael Leighton made 9 saves in the third to preserve his shutout and Claude Giroux added his second of the game – an empty netter late – to seal the deal and send this series back to Philadelphia with the Flyers having a chance to close out this series on their home ice.
Game Five won’t be easy, but the Wachovia Center will be ready to celebrate on Monday night. The Canadiens have come back from down 1-3 once already this season, doing so against the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals in the first round, and following that up by coming back from down 2-3 to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins last round. Certainly, it’s not going to be easy for the Flyers to close it out at home; the Canadiens are going to come into South Philadelphia on Monday night with the belief that they can win with their season on the line (already 5-0 in elimination games this postseason) and are going to be at the highest level of desperation possible to save their season. If the Flyers, on the other hand, can simply even come close to duplicating their performance tonight, they will be in good shape on Monday.
I hate to bring down the mood, but the Flyers can’t let this one get away. We all know we don’t want this series going back to Montreal, and, better yet, we all remember what happened in this situation in 2000.