After their loss in the first game of the series, the Montreal Canadiens needed a tremendous showing in the second game to prove their first-round win over the Pittsburgh Penguins was no fluke. With Kirk Muller teking over behind the bench for a recovering Claude Julien, and the Canadiens left the Philadelphia Flyers in the dust on Friday afternoon.
Tomas Tatar and Jesperi Kotkaniemi each netted a pair of goals, while Max Domi collected three assists in a 5-0 rout that stunned not only Habs fans, but the Flyers’ whole team. Game 3 was sure to hold much more emotion as well, as Flyers coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t happy about Kirk Muller’s usage of his “top” power play unit in the final minutes of the Montreal win. The Habs stuck with their winning lineup, while the Flyers scratched Joel Farabee and Shayne Gostisbehere for Michael Raffl and Robert Hagg.
The Canadiens started Kotkaniemi’s new line against the Flyers’ fourth line off the opening draw, and it was all Montreal off the hop as the speed of the Habs left the Flyers’ unit scrambling. Unlike Friday’s game, however, Philadelphia managed to curb some of the early Montreal pressure while struggling to generate any real meaningful pressure of their own.
Despite the slow start, the Flyers got the game’s first goal, as Jakub Voracek got a piece of the puck off an offensive-zone draw, and directed it past Carey Price.
Montreal didn’t let the Flyers settle into the game even with their lead. At the other end of the ice, Kotkaniemi rang a shot off the post and out, then Brett Kulak uncorked a slapshot that also beat Hart, but clanged off the iron as well.
Unfortunately for the Habs, a double-minor for high-sticking provided the Flyers with a major opportunity to do some damage. For the first two minutes of the advantage they did nothing of note, and it wasn’t until Travis Konecny found some iron behind Price that they looked remotely threatening. The penalty kill stood strong, keeping the deficit at just one goal as Kotkaniemi exited the box.
At five-on-five, Montreal continued to pressure the Flyers, but the play soon shifted back to the penalty kill as Jeff Petry interfered with Kevin Hayes. The Flyers’ man advantage again failed to yield much for them as the penalty-killers stymied their attack, and that sent the game into the first intermission with the Flyers up by a goal.
Philadelphia continued to slow the game down to a mucky, slow mess as they sat back on their one-goal advantage at the start of the second period. Even if Montreal got into the offensive zone it was a grab-and-grind experience that mitigated much of the Habs’ speed advantage.
A cross-check from Travis Konecny put Montreal on their first power play of the night, with a chance to get a goal of their own. Despite Alain Vigneault’s previous complaints, Montreal man advantage didn’t look very dangerous, and the team remained behind by a goal.
They didn’t have to wait long to try again, as Alex Belzile’s speed managed to draw a hooking penalty against Matt Niskanen. As their power play struggled to attack, a delay of game call on Hart gave Montreal a brief five-on-three advantage. The power play continued to be stuck in neutral, and as Joel Armia set a pick to try to open up some space, it mercifully came to an abrupt end.
On that Flyers power play the Canadiens got their best chance of the period as Nick Suzuki and Paul Byron created a two-on-one rush. Suzuki opted to hold the puck, then fired a shot off the post and out once again.
The teams headed into the intermission with the Flyers still leading by a goal, clearly content to sit on their lead and force the Habs to break down their defensive posture.
Montreal came out strong to start the final period, and they rang another shot off the iron behind Hart, as Kotkaniemi once more played a tune on the Flyers’ cage.
Nothing of note continued to happen until Max Domi was caught flatfooted, and in turn speared an approaching Hayes, somehow escaping with just a two minute minor penalty. Thankfully, the Flyers’ power play was almost inconceivably worse than Montreal’s, and they failed to find an insurance marker to put the game out of reach. The Flyers didn’t even manage a shot on net with their next advantage.
Even when the Habs gained the zone late in the game, their shots only caromed off skates and out of the zone to begin the whole painful cycle once again.
Montreal pulled Price with just over two minutes left, and despite several good looks from Kotkaniemi it was Hart standing tall — or wide — between the battered Philly pipes. It was not to be for the Canadiens in Game 3, and the Flyers escaped with a 1-0 win for a 2-1 series lead.
Game 4 is Tuesday at 3:00 PM EDT, and opens the back-to-back games in this series, with Game 5 set to go at a time to be determined on Wednesday.