‘Could the third time really be the charm?” the Canadiens asked themselves on Thursday night, entering the City of Brotherly Love for this season’s final battle against the Philadelphia Flyers with two previous overtime losses in mind. Coming into the game, the Flyers had the best home record of any NHL team, a tough thing for Montreal to overcome.
There were three changes to the lineup in comparison to the team that got hammered by Chicago the night before. Cale Fleury became a healthy scratch, with Brett Kulak playing beside Victor Mete on the third defensive pairing. Charlie Lindgren returned to backing up the red-hot Carey Price. We also finally got to welcome back one of the many injured forwards, as Joel Armia was back in action for the first time since Christmas, replacing Jordan Weal. Armia, with 12 goals in 35 outings this season, slotted in to the right of Nick Suzuki and Max Domi on the second line.
Philadelphia gave 27-year old Alex Lyon his first start of the season in goal after gaining promotion from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms just a few days ago due to Carter Hart’s lower-body injury.
Lyon would have his work cut out for him in a first period where Montreal gained the early advantage in the shot column. However, Lyon held up during the game’s first power play following a Nicolas Aube-Kubel trip on Mete. He stood strong when Phillip Danault found Ilya Kovalchuk with a perfect cross-ice pass in the slot for a tap-in. Even though Montreal tried to rattle the inexperienced goaltender, he seemed to be up to the task.
Instead, Philadelphia would take the lead and ruin Price’s hopes of a second straight shutout. Joel Farabee skated into the offensive zone and managed to keep control of the puck working against three Habs defenders. After a chaotic sequence in the slot, the puck bounced back to Farabee, who shoved in the opening goal with 1:13 left until the period break.
Montreal responded swiftly. Eighteen seconds after Farabee broke Price’s shutout, Tomas Tatar reciprocated the favour for Lyon. Ben Chiarot stopped a Montreal dump-in from being cleared back out into the neutral zone. Danault saw Tatar move into the left-wing position while he himself battled the puck against the boards. With a light flick, he gave Tuna the opportunity to beat the sophomore goalie with a wrister for his 17th goal of year.
The Canadiens got an explosive start to the second period, aided by a hooking call on $49-million signee Kevin Hayes. On the following power play, Kovalchuk found Shea Weber at the point. Weber unleashed his mighty slapshot into the traffic in front of the net, creating a rebound off Nick Cousins. Who just happened to be in the right place at the right time for the tap-in? Ilya Kovalchuk, doing what he does best and scoring his second since his arrival to Montreal.
Goals seemed to come in pairs on the evening. Eleven seconds after taking the lead, the Habs scored again. This time, Danault sent the puck into the crease where Artturi Lehkonen came surging in to beat Lyon for his 11th of the season.
Suddenly the Flyers had a two-goal hole to fight back from. They got a chance to edge closer during two minutes of man-advantage time when former Flyer Dale Weise tripped up Ivan Provorov. Montreal held their ground and kept Philadelphia to one single goal scored.
Price continued his formidable week during the final minutes of the second period, effectively stopping Philadelphia from getting back into the contest. With three minutes left to play, Marco Scandella’s stick touched Travis Konecny’s toe ever so slightly, with the latter going down as if someone shot him. Scandella got sent to the box for tripping while his teammates tried to talk some sense into Konecny for the next few minutes.
The shooting statistics had swung in favour of the home team, with Price keeping the Habs’ ship upright, stopping several attempts from James van Riemsdyk and entering the third period with 30 saves on 31 shots.
Ryan Poehling and Jesperi Kotkaniemi seem to be developing a bit of chemistry on the same line, and that includes standing up for each other when needed. When Poehling got drilled into the boards by Flyers defenceman Robert Hagg, Kotkaniemi turned up to defend his teammate, resulting in a surprising fight. The instigator penalty that followed on the Finn was to no delight of Claude Julien and the Montreal bench, especially since Hagg looked ready to go as soon as Kotkaniemi entered his proximity.
Montreal did well to kill off the ensuing penalty and would soon have to repeat that effort when Danault got a two-minute rest in the box for hooking. The Habs’ penalty kill has stepped up its game lately, preventing many of the clear-cut chances we saw them give up earlier in the season. Naturally, it also helps when you have a goaltender who stops whatever gets beyond the defence.
It seems as though we will have a possible lineup problem once Brendan Gallagher returns from injury. Will he take his usual spot next to Danault, or is Montreal better off continuing with Kovalchuk as the third part of the top line? Halfway through the third period, the Russian scored his second of the night and third with the Habs, thereby tying his goal tally from his 17 games with the Los Angeles Kings . This goal was assisted by Danault’s great work from behind the net. Working his way into the slot, Kovalchuk unleashed his wrister over Lyon’s glove and saw the shot go in beneath the crossbar.
Price ended the night with 40 saves and Danault had an impressive three assists on a night where they gave Philadelphia what was only their fourth regulation loss at home this season.
The Canadiens will now travel home to face the team from Sin City on Saturday, taking on the Peter DeBoer-coached Vegas Golden Knights, currently working themselves out of a Habs-like losing streak.