PHILADELPHIA – The Montreal Canadiens are down 3-1 in a playoff series they’ve dominated everywhere except where it counts most: the scoreboard.
Flyers goalie Martin Biron was yet again was brilliant – and the difference – as Philadelphia beat the Canadiens 4-2 Wednesday to take a commanding lead in their Eastern Conference semifnal.
“We just lost three games and when I’ll sit down with the coaching staff I don’t think I will want to change anything we’re doing,” Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said.
“We’re playing great. But Martin Biron is playing great right now.”
The opportunistic Flyers were again outshot and outchanced and spent most of the night in their own zone but again they found a way to win.
“You can compare it to football,” explained Biron. “Sometimes you don’t have the ball as much as you’d like but you take advantage of it when you do get it. Obviously we’d like to get more shots and more chances but we’re taking advantage of what we’re getting right now.”
Daniel Briere’s power-play goal with 3:38 remaining in the third period lifted the Flyers to the victory after Montreal had scored 37 seconds apart in the third period to pull even. A borderline interference penalty called on Montreal’s Steve Begin set up Briere’s heroics.
“No, not all all,” Carbonneau fumed when asked if he thought it was a penalty. “But I don’t want to get fined.”
R.J. Umberger had a pair of goals, his second into an empty net, and Scott Hartnell also scored for the Flyers, who can advance to the NHL’s Eastern Conference final with a win Saturday night at Montreal in Game 5 (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).
“We have to have the mindset that Saturday will be a Game 7,” said Briere, whose team allowed Washington to come back in the series in the previous round and force a seventh game.
Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec scored for the Canadiens, who have dropped five of their past seven playoff games.
“We have to keep doing the same things,” said Koivu, who played another inspired game. “We’ve outshot them all series.”
The Canadiens have outshot the Flyers 108-63 over the last three games – all losses. Biron is looking like Patrick Roy.
“He’s making some great saves,” conceded Koivu. “But a lot of the time the puck is hitting him and he has no idea. We need to get more traffic in front of him.”
Montreal’s power play also continued to struggle, going 0-for-4 on the night. They’re now 7-for-51 in the playoffs, absolutely brutal for a team that was No. 1 in the NHL with the man advantage during the regular season.
But this is the post-season, and the young Canadiens are showing signs they aren’t ready for prime time just yet. They struggled to dispose of the eighth-seeded Boston Bruins in seven games in the first round and now they’re almost surely going down to defeat to the sixth-seeded Flyers.
At least this time Carey Price wasn’t to blame.
On the day he was announced as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau made the gutsy decision to start Jaroslav Halak ahead of his prized rookie Price, who had lost four of his last six starts and had been pulled from Monday’s third game.
“Because we needed a change,” Carbonneau said when asked why he made the switch. “I wasn’t satisfied with Carey’s play and he also recognizes that.”
Halak wasn’t to blame on this night, stopping 23 of 25 shots, but the spark Carbonneau was hoping to get from the surprising move didn’t materialize. And now it will be talked about all summer long in La Belle Province unless the Habs can make an improbable comeback in the series.
Halak showed his coach he was ready for his first career NHL playoff start when he stopped Flyers centre Jeff Carter on a short-handed breakaway four minutes into the game.
Like a broken record, Montreal once again dominated a scoreless first period, outshouting the Flyers 14-7 but either missing the net or shooting right in the middle Biron’s chest.
While Montreal’s power play continued to struggle, the Flyers capitalized on one of their own 7:47 into the second period, with Umberger beating Halak with a wrist shot that got past the Slovak goalie short side under the arm. Just moments earlier, a Montreal penalty killer missed from point blank.
And the Canadiens came in waves and waves but could not get one past Biron before the end of the second period. The shots were 28-17 for the Habs but the only statistic that mattered was 1-0 Flyers.
Umberger made it 2-0 just 4:17 into the third period, hammering home a rebound after Vaclav Prospal clanked one off the crossbar.
Then, out of nowhwere, the Habs tied it with a pair of bang bang goals.
Plekanec gave the Habs hope with 7:01 remaining in the third period, deflecting Josh Gorges’ point shot through Biron’s five-hole. It was the kind of dirty goal the Habs needed to get things going.
Then captain Koivu tied it on the very next shift, burying a rebound at the side of the net. Wachovia Center was stunned.
But the penalty to Begin set up Briere’s winner, the star centre sliding home a loose puck at the side of the net after a goal mouth scramble.
Notes – Flyers winger Mike Knuble was back in the lineup after missing five games with a hamstring injury. Agitator Steve Downie was scratched to make room for him … Veteran defenceman Patrice Brisebois returned to Montreal’s lineup after missing two games with a leg injury. He took Ryan O’Byrne’s spot on the blue-line. Mathieu Dandenault and Michael Ryder were once again healthy scratches… Flyers fans showed a bit more respect this time around for O Canada. Once again the Flyers aired a taped video message from Briere asking fans to respect the Canadian anthem.