With their backs against the wall, the Montreal Canadiens rolled into Game 5 against the Philadelphia Flyers riding a goalless drought that spanned nearly 130 minutes. Despite Carey Price being nearly flawless, Montreal trailed 3-1 in the series, and their shocking playoff run seemed to be at its end.
Kirk Muller had the line blender kicked into overdrive in Tuesday to try and find some sort of combination to spark the suddenly anemic offence. When the Habs took the ice for their pre-game warmup, a more familiar top line of Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar was reunited, and in an offence-first move, Charles Hudon replaced Alex Belzile on the fourth line. The Flyers kept their lineup the same following their run of wins, and between the pipes it was Carey Price versus Carter Hart in what was turning out to be an epic goaltending battle.
The Canadiens came out with aggression, trying to break down the Flyers’ defence early on, including Gallagher launching himself at Ivan Provorov before challenging him to a fight. Then it was Ben Chiarot trying to drive the net, but ended up taking a goaltender interference penalty.
The Flyers’ power play proved to be exactly what Montreal’s offence needed. Xavier Ouellet skated the puck out, turning a dump-in to a hard pass off the end boards. Joel Armia caught the Flyers sleeping and snuck in to grab the loose puck, and broke in alone on Carter Hart, snapping a shot past him to end Montreal’s goal drought and grab the all-important first goal.
The game’s physical tone continued from there, with plenty of hits being dished out and likely plenty of words exchanged between the teams as well. That physicality eventually caught up with Gallagher, as he was called for high-sticking Robert Hagg, giving the Flyers another man advantage. That power play didn’t last long, as a Jakub Voracek double-minor gave Montreal a slightly extended advantage to work with.
To say that the Canadiens power play was bad is underselling it, as the best chance of the nearly three-minute man advantage fell to Kevin Hayes. Hayes broke in alone on a poor pass by Max Domi, but it was again the glove of Price that denied the Philadelphia forward a goal.
Neither side really made much of a push as the final moments of the period approached, but a Joel Farabee tripping penalty gave Montreal one more crack on the power play before it ended. Naturally the power play failed to make much noise at the end of the first or the beginning of the second period, and the Habs held on to their one-goal lead.
After the power play expired, Jesperi Kotkaniemi drilled Travis Sanheim as he turned away following a dump-in, and for his trouble was given a major penalty, along with a game misconduct for causing a visible injury. To rub salt in the wound, the Flyers’ power play finally scored, tying the game early in the second period. Grinding that salt in even deeper, the Flyers added one more just seconds before the major penalty ended, putting the Habs down by a goal and now without one of their best offensive weapons to climb out of it.
Then it was Joel Armia’s world and the Flyers had to live in it as the big Finn blistered a shot off the crossbar right after the end of the Flyers’ power play. On his following shift, it was Armia again who found a way to step up in the absence of Kotkaniemi. He broke in close, then fired what looked like a harmless shot, but Hart, down to protect the bottom of the net, left a small gap that Armia slipped his shot through for a tying goal.
The penalty parade continued, this time for the Flyers, with Philippe Myers throwing a crosscheck to the face of Jake Evans. It didn’t take long for a resurgent Canadiens team to make him pay for his transgression. Nick Suzuki worked off the wall, cutting to the net and fluttering a saucer pass across to Gallagher. The feisty forward’s check-swing got just enough of the puck to get it by a sprawling Hart and put Montreal back into the lead. Suzuki was even sure to give Hart a pat on the head as he skated by, no doubt drawing the ire of the Flyers’ bench.
Suzuki went back out there and added a fourth goal to chase Hart from the net. He rocketed into the Flyers end, and snapped a simple shot right through Hart that drew Brian Elliott into the game. However, an offside challenge by Alain Vigneault caught Jonathan Drouin ahead of the play, wiping out Suzuki’s goal, and strangely granting Hart a reprieve as he retook his crease.
Montreal didn’t let an overturned goal slow them down. Their maksehift lines continued to pile up chances as the end of the period approached, but another goal was not in the cards for the second period.
The third started as a whirlwind of controlled chaos so to speak. The Canadiens pushed early for a fourth goal and nearly found one thanks to a tipped Shea Weber shot. Then it was the Flyers pushing hard for another goal, but had to settle for Voracek drawing a tripping call by stepping on Artturi Lehkonen’s stick. Even with one of their leading penalty-killers in the box, the Habs fended off the Flyers, including some standout work from Paul Byron and Evans to force the play to even strength.
The Flyers got another chance to prove their worth, as Kevin Hayes took a blocked shot and sped off on a breakaway, where he was dragged down by a pair of Habs defenders. It did not take long for the Flyers to convert on the advantage, as Farabee got the puck past Carey Price to tie the game at three goals each.
Twenty-two seconds later, the Canadiens decided to put themselves back on top. Drouin fed a sublime no-look pass to Suzuki. Wanting to get his goal back, Suzuki rounded Hart and neatly tucked his shot around the sprawling Flyers goalie, putting Montreal back into the lead.
Penalties swung back in favour of the Canadiens, as Voracek got his stick in between Gallagher’s legs and pitchforked him to the ice, creating a late Habs man advantage. Matt Niskanen left Gallagher bloody after a crosscheck to the face, but without a call, and definitely without forcing the gritty forward to back down.
Montreal held fast, grabbing a late empty-net goal from Phillip Danault to close out the win and survive one more night. Then Sean Couturier threw a late, blindside hit at Artturi Lehkonen as the goal horn sounded, kicking off a massive kerfuffle. It continued as Nate Thompson tried to fight anyone in a Montreal sweater at the final horn.
Game 6 is on Friday evening, and tensions are sure to be running high after a contentious affair on Wednesday.