Eastern Conference Quarter-finals: Game 3
Montreal Canadiens vs. Philadelphia Flyers
How to watch
Start time: 8:00 PM EDT / 5:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the US: NBC
Streaming: Sportsnet Now
Claude Julien may not have been behind the bench in person on Friday afternoon as the Montreal Canadiens were forced to carry on in his absence, but he left behind his tactics and philosophy. He saw his team play his game plan to a T, sending wave after wave of pressure on the opposition, and the reward was the most lopsided win of their 2019-20 season.
Montreal had been finding success despite their top offensive players getting held off the board. That all changed just seconds into Friday’s game when Tomas Tatar got his first goal since the pause, and that proved to be all Montreal needed to get the series back on even terms as Carey Price, the defence, and the relentless offensive push kept the Flyers off the board.
The whole game plan coming together wasn’t the only positive development in the game. A power play that hadn’t scored at all in the qualifier versus the Pittsburgh Penguins netted two goals after getting one in Game 1 as well. Tatar got his goal total in the game up to two on the man advantage, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi did the same midway through the third.
Tale of the Tape
|2.67||Goals per game||2.60|
|1.67||Goals against per game||1.80|
It was an encouraging sign for those of us who watched a power play that not only failed to score on the vast majority of its chances, but also erased any momentum the team had used to draw the penalty in the first place. Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t nearly as happy about its effectiveness, complaining after the game about Montreal sending out its top players to end a 5-0 game. It was a good indication of how strong the man advantage had been, and how little the Flyers had to feel good about from their own game that day, scrambling to find a spark for Game 3 from an alternative source.
The Canadiens went into the post-season hoping only to survive versus what, on paper, were better teams. Now that they have half-a-dozen games of experience, they’re starting to realize that they aren’t as outmatched as the regular-season record indicated, and Friday’s game was the first one in which they took their play to the opponent.
The team has surprisingly good depth. We already knew they’ve had a good group of wingers for several years now, but having three centres who can be trusted in just about any situation is proving to be quite an enviable situation.
That centre depth isn’t something many expected to see so soon when the team reconvened for the post-season. Phillip Danault’s quality was never in question, but how Nick Suzuki could stack up with other number-two pivots was unknown, and Kotkaniemi didn’t seem to be playoff-ready in the last game he played for the Habs in the regular season. Now all three have high-danger-scoring-chances-for percentages over 56%, and Kotkaniemi isn’t only the best on the team, but is second in the entire NHL, just behind reigning Conn Smythe Trophy-winner Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues in that category, at 81.8%.
Pittsburgh struggled and ultimately failed to match that depth in the qualifiers, and Vigneault has probably spent the last two nights thinking about some shuffles of his own to come with an answer. He’ll need to have a good plan for tonight, because the Canadiens just had their most complete game of the year, and erased any self-doubt they had left.