MONTREAL – The Philadelphia Flyers got a pleasant surprise when they arrived at the Bell Centre on Saturday morning.
Seeing the names of Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter in the lineup gave the Flyers an emotional lift they rode to a 3-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens and a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.
“We didn’t know they would be in the lineup,” said Flyers winger Scott Hartnell, whose team can close out the Habs in Game 5 in Philadelphia on Monday night.
“When we saw the lineup when we got to the rink we were pretty fired up.”
Carter, who led the Flyers with 33 goals in the regular season, returned from a fractured right foot suffered in Game 4 of Philadelphia’s first-round series against the New Jersey Devils.
He played 13 minutes 51 seconds, mostly on the right wing with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, and finished tied for the team lead in both shots on goal and hits with four of each.
Laperriere played for the first time since suffering a horrific injury in Game 5 of that same first-round series. The Flyers winger took a slapshot in the eye area and the impact of the puck caused a brain contusion, concussion and fractured orbital bone.
Laperriere played 9:13 in Saturday with a full face shield.
“(Carter) is a 30 to 40-goal scorer now, and maybe more in the future,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “Ian Laperriere is as valuable going the other way as Jeff is going towards their net.
“To get players like that back in your lineup certainly is a boost, not just emotionally but also from a standpoint of on-ice play.”
Some questioned the wisdom of Laperriere coming back from such a significant injury so soon, but he said there was no risk of him aggravating his head injuries after consulting with four neurologists.
“If I was more at risk than before my injury, I wouldn’t be out there,” Laperriere said. “I’m a family guy, I’ve got two kids at home, I’ve got a wife. I’ve got to think about that. I didn’t want to be selfish, and all four of (the neurologists) were 100 per cent sure that I wasn’t.”
The Flyers were upset after their 5-1 loss in Game 3 on Thursday, not only with how they played, but also with some of the taunting tactics used by the Canadiens. They were expected to come out in the first period of Game 4 looking to exact some revenge, but instead the Flyers played with great composure and did not get sucked into retaliation penalties.
The Canadiens got their first power play in the third period, when Matt Carle took a delay of game penalty for flipping the puck out of play.
“We were much better at controlling our emotions, not letting their guys that talk a lot get into our heads,” said Daniel Briere, making a not-so-veiled reference to Canadiens agitator Maxim Lapierre. “That was one of the things we talked about.
“I think as the game went on they got more and more frustrated, so that’s the way we have to keep it.”
The one player who personified the radical improvement for the Flyers from Game 3 to Game 4 was defenceman Chris Pronger. He was on the ice for the first four Canadiens goals on Thursday and in the penalty box for the fifth.
On Saturday he played 31:07 of error-free hockey, snuffing out Canadiens rushes before they could get started.
“Obviously, when you have a tough game you want to rebound,” Pronger said. “That’s the sign of a professional, and I think we all realized there weren’t too many of us who had a good game in Game 3.”