In a lot of ways, Game 5 on Wednesday night was a defining game for the Montreal Canadiens. They faced a challenge of their own making when Jesperi Kotkaniemi was ejected, they faced adversity when they fell behind on the scoreboard, and they were dealt a blow when their heart-and-soul player, Brendan Gallagher, had his jaw broken by Matt Niskanen. They pulled out a strong 5-3 win to keep their surprising playoff run alive, and they would need another defining experience in Game 6 to keep that drive going.
Obviously the team was without Brendan Gallagher for the remainder of the series, and it’s not an easy task to step up and fill his skates. That Herculean effort fell onto the shoulders of Artturi Lehkonen who has had a strong post-season, even if the point totals haven’t been there. Joel Armia slid into Lehkonen’s spot on the second line next to Nick Suzuki, and Alex Belzile slotted into the fourth line with Jake Evans and Charles Hudon.
Twenty-eight seconds in and the adversity found a new form as the Philadelphia Flyers found the back of the net first. Ivan Provorov worked off the wall and flung a low shot toward Carey Price. Shea Weber, who was standing in front of the net, had the puck deflect off him and into the net.
Montreal was not content to let the Flyers’ trap game come into effect, as the next shift saw the Habs swarming all over Carter Hart until his net came off its moorings, forcing a stoppage in the offensive zone.
Ben Chiarot and Weber continued a rough start, as Jakub Voracek broke in past them and Chiarot was caught hooking the Flyers forward, sending Philly to an early power play. While the Flyers didn’t cash in on the man advantage, just after it expired a shot from Kevin Hayes hit off of Lehkonen, then the inside of Price’s pad for a two-goal Philadelphia lead.
Montreal had a chance on a power play after Philippe Myers was called for holding Phillip Danault behind the net. The Canadiens’ power play clicked early, and the emergence of Suzuki continued as he potted his third of the playoffs. A shot from Joel Armia was left hanging in front of the net, and Suzuki got enough of it on a follow-up swing to get it by Hart, putting Montreal back into the game.
Another penalty brought the Habs’ momentum to a screeching halt as Jeff Petry caught Nate Thompson up high with his stick, but on the following penalty kill Armia nearly scored short-handed to tie the game, but couldn’t poke the puck by Hart. While Montreal killed the first penalty, Weber was the guilty party of a cross checking call, and started another penalty kill for Montreal. This time it was Price who was the Habs’ best penalty-killer, making a number of huge saves to keep the Flyers from converting again. A late push almost resulted in another goal, but the intermission horn went, sending Montreal into the break trailing by a goal.
After a big hit on Suzuki early in the second, it looked like tempers might have boiled over, but cooler heads prevailed. A Claude Giroux stick-slash put Montreal back on the man advantage, and again they looked dangerous, including a tip play that went just wide of the net as the power play expired.
Then with Chiarot caught deep and desperately trying to get back following a turnover, the Flyers restored their two-goal lead — for a few moments anyway.
Soon after the goal, Hart lazily played the puck for his teammate, and that allowed Jonathan Drouin to grab it. Drouin then slipped Travis Sanheim’s coverage and threaded a pass right across the crease that Suzuki put home for his second of the night, and fourth of the playoffs.
Montreal’s pressure game went back to work, as the rolling lines kept the Flyers’ offence quiet, and even buried in their own end with the fourth line working away. One little slip up by Max Domi created a breakaway for Scott Laughton that forced the Habs winger to take a penalty, and an elbow to the mouth for good measure. The Flyers’ power play didn’t generate much, and allowed a dominant even-strength Habs team back into play still trailing by a goal.
The Canadiens almost found that tying goa. With Ivan Provorov having to change due to losing his helmet, there was a brief man advantage for Montreal. Jeff Petry pulled the puck away from a defender, and slipped a pass to a streaking Paul Byron, who couldn’t get the shot off on a sprawling Hart. The teams went into the intermission with the Flyers holding on for dear life against a ferocious Montreal onslaught.
While the opening 40 minutes had plenty of back-and-forth action, the third period started far more tentatively, with neither side over-extending themselves and risking another goal against. The Flyers were more than happy to set up their defensive posture, and Montreal looked a bit exhausted, having difficulty getting more than a chance in their possessions.
Tomas Tatar nearly found the tying goal twice on the same shift, his first chance was blocked by Robert Hagg, and his second caught the knob of Hart’s stick and went out of play. Xavier Ouellet followed that up by firing up a handful of chances in close, but it was again Hart making the difference between the pipes.
There wasn’t another miracle to finish out this game, as the 24th-seed-that-could finally ran out of steam in the final moments. With Price out of his net, they pushed hard for another tying goal, but a late chance by Suzuki was met by the pads of Hart and it was all over.
Montreal put a huge scare into the Flyers, but in the end luck eventually runs out. The Canadiens were given no shot for two straight rounds, and proved a lot of people wrong.
The Canadiens’ motto is “To you from failing hands, we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high.” Consider that torch extended to the sky, and shining plenty of light on the future ahead.