Fresh off their solid win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night, the Montreal Canadiens faced another stern task in the suddenly resurgent Philadelphia Flyers. Facing them was Carter Hart, the rookie phenom who bested them in his last start. That loss, however, kicked off an incredible run of form at home for the Canadiens, going 5-0-2 in the confines of the Bell Centre following that loss.
Hart took to his crease opposite his idol, Carey Price, who was locked into his typical form in the win over the Blue Jackets. With new father Phillip Danault returning to the lineup, Nate Thompson slid down to his usual fourth-line spot, and sent Charles Hudon to the press box as a healthy scratch.
To say the Canadiens started quickly would be a massive understatement for this game. Just 58 seconds into the first period, and on their first shot of the game, the Canadiens took the lead courtesy of Brendan Gallagher. Some quick feet through the neutral zone by Danault allowed him to find a soft spot in the Flyers’ defence, and he had no issue putting the puck on a platter for Gallagher, who wired his 24th goal of the year past Hart.
The onslaught continued from there. Thanks to a smart lead pass by Jordie Benn, again attacking the Flyers through the neutral zone. Paul Byron took the pass and wasted no time splitting his way through the Philadelphia defence and picked out Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The young Finn was in a good position to blast his 11th goal of the year on a one-timer, and put the Flyers back on their heels just over three minutes into the game.
Things only got worse from there for Hart, who allowed one more goal on the Canadiens’ ninth shot of the night, and was pulled in favour of Brian Elliott, who had re-joined the team after a conditioning stint. Brendan Gallagher battled through the offensive zone, and when he got below the goal line he turned and fired a shot that trickled through Hart, and bolstered an already formidable Montreal lead.
It was all Montreal right up to the intermission horn, with Gallagher nearly completing a first-period hat trick in the final minute.
If the first period was the Flyers digging themselves a massive hole, the second period was a dump truck backing up to bury them in it. It took just under two minutes for Montreal to drive another nail in the coffin of the Flyers, with Gallagher striking for his third goal. In a theme for the night, Andrew Shaw attacked the Philadelphia defence with speed, laying the puck off for Gallagher who flicked a backhand shot home for his first professional hat trick.
For good measure, Tomas Tatar added to the blowout a few minutes later, picking a corner for his 20th goal of the year, and almost assuredly putting the game out of reach. Taking a feed from Max Domi, Tatar wove his way around a defender, and while off-balance rifled a shot into the far corner of the net, giving him a fifth 20-goal campaign.
Much like the opening 20 minutes, the second period ended with a quiet fury to it. The Canadiens were clearly in the driver’s seat, and even with their foot slightly off the gas they had almost entirely squashed the life out of the Flyers.
While the first two periods were a lopsided domination from Montreal, the third was for the Canadiens to coast into the finish line. They didn’t need to push the pace too hard, yet were able keep the Flyers from truly threatening the lead. A Michael Raffl goal didn’t put much a dent in the deficit, but did break Price’s shutout bid.
Some timely penalty-killing by Joel Armia was all Montreal needed to see out the final few minutes of the game and earn his side two more points in the standings. In the end, Raffl’s goal didn’t truly matter.
While the offence rightfully stole the spotlight through two periods of play, and despite the fact he wasn’t overly busy, Price was locked in to keep the Flyers off the board. Massive stops on Wayne Simmonds and Scott Laughton kept Philadelphia off the scoreboard for most of the game, and more importantly quashed any potential momentum shifts. It was a near perfect game for the Canadiens after they battled back for two points against the Blue Jackets earlier this week.
On a night where Georges St-Pierre was honoured before the game, the Canadiens mimicked his biggest title fight performances. They crushed the Flyers early, and didn’t let up for a single second until the result wasn’t even close to in doubt. Next up are the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the stakes continue to be incredibly high as Montreal closes in on their forever rival in the standings.