MONTREAL – The Philadelphia Flyers are hitting the Olympic break on a high, largely at the expense of the Montreal Canadiens.
Daniel Briere got a hat trick and Jeff Carter extended his goal streak to four games as the Flyers completed a home-and-home sweep with a 6-2 win Saturday night over the Canadiens.
Briere, a Gatineau, Que., native who is booed mercilessly by the Bell Centre fans with every visit to Montreal because he spurned the Canadiens free agent overtures in 2007, took some extra gratification out of his performance.
“Obviously in Montreal it’s a little extra special, there’s no doubt about that,” Briere said. “Having friends and family and all the people that are booing me, so it was a little special.”
Mike Richards and Blair Betts also scored for the Flyers (32-25-3), who ride a four-game win streak into the two-week break.
Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez scored for the Canadiens (29-28-6), who lost 3-2 in Philadelphia on Friday night and have dropped three of their last four.
“We didn’t have all 20 guys to chip in and play the whole 60 minutes, in Philly and today at home,” said Canadiens defenceman Jaroslav Spacek. “We gave up easy goals and didn’t recover from that.”
Jaroslav Halak, who has almost single-handedly kept the Habs playoff hopes alive this season, had a difficult night with four goals allowed on only 17 shots before being pulled in favour of Carey Price to start the third period.
Halak – the likely Olympic starter for Slovakia – has allowed 11 goals on 65 shots over his last three starts, going 1-2-0 over that span.
At the other end, waiver-wire pick-up Michael Leighton made 26 saves to get his fourth straight win and his 12th in 16 starts since being picked up from Carolina in December.
The Canadiens risk entering the break on the outside of the playoff picture.
Saturday’s loss coupled with the Boston Bruins 3-2 shootout win over the Florida Panthers dropped Montreal to eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Canadiens are one point ahead of the ninth-place Tampa Bay Lightning, who play the Rangers on Sunday in New York.
Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin said he can accept that positioning considering all the injuries his team’s been hit with this season.
“You’re never satisfied with where you are, but you have to be realistic,” Martin said. “Sometimes it’s not the number of injuries, but who is injured. With a player like (Andrei) Markov, for instance, you just don’t replace a player like him. Up front we have three forwards out of our top six out, and it’s not just missing a couple of games.”
Canadiens prized defence prospect P.K. Subban made his Bell Centre debut after impressing in Philadelphia on Friday, earning his second assist in as many games and showing off his offensive skill set. With his parents in the building, the sellout crowd of 21,273 roared their approval on several occasions with chants of “P.K., P.K.”
“P.K. has shown he has some nice skill, especially with the puck, and his skating is a real asset,” said Habs coach Jacques Martin. “He just needs to improve his play without the puck.”
The game began with a fight four seconds in between Habs defenceman Ryan O’Byrne and Flyers tough guy Ian Laperriere, a settling of scores from a final buzzer skirmish in Philadelphia a night earlier.
Laperriere scored a one-punch knockout with a right hand to O’Byrne’s jaw, foreshadowing the game to follow.
“It was pretty important for us to come in here and get off to a good start,” Chris Pronger said. “Lappy’s fight kind of got the tone set for our bench and our team and we kind of took it from there.”
The Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one period for a second straight night, beating Halak with three goals off rebounds.
“It’s the starts, both games after the first period it was a 3-0 game,” Gionta said. “It’s tough to do that against a pretty good team.”
First, Scott Hartnell took advantage of a second consecutive botched breakout by the Habs to set up Oskars Bartulis for a long point shot. The rebound went right to Briere in front, and he had no trouble burying it at 4:37.
Richards capitalized on another rebound off a Simon Gagne shot to score his team-high 13th power-play goal of the year at 11:10 to make it 2-0 Flyers.
Carter made it 3-0 at 15:50 when he swept in a rebound off a Matt Carle point shot for his team-leading 27th of the season.
The Canadiens got back in it in the second with a power-play goal when Gionta tipped Roman Hamrlik’s wrist shot past Leighton for his 17th of the season at 6:59.
But Betts took advantage of a Hamrlik blunder at the Flyers blue-line to go on a short-handed breakaway and beat Halak high glove side for his seventh of the year at 11:31 of the second.
Briere’s second of the game came on the power play with just under six seconds to play in the second, tipping a Chris Pronger point shot past Halak at 19:54 to make it 5-1.
Montreal got one back on a third period power play when Gomez scored his 10th on a rebound off a Hamrlik point shot at 6:06, Briere completed his hat trick on a penalty shot at 10:53 for his 21st of the year and a 6-2 Flyers lead.
Notes: Canadiens D Hal Gill played his 900th career game. . . The Canadiens were missing injured regulars D Andrei Markov (lower body), RW Andrei Kostitsyn (knee), LW Mike Cammalleri (knee), D Marc-Andre Bergeron (knee), LW Benoit Pouliot (upper body) and D Paul Mara (shoulder). . . LW Ville Leino and LW Riley Cote were healthy scratches for Philadelphia. . . The Canadiens have five players headed to Vancouver for the Olympics: Halak (Slovakia), Markov (Russia), Tomas Plekanec (Czech Republic), and Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn (Belarus). . . The Flyers have four players officially named to Olympic rosters: Pronger and Richards (Canada), Kimmo Timonen (Finland) and Bartulis (Latvia). Carter will play for Canada if it is determined that Anaheim C Ryan Getzlaf is unable to play due to a left ankle injury that has kept him out of the Ducks last two games. Carter said after the game he will be flying to Vancouver on Sunday morning with Richards and Pronger.