PHILADELPHIA – For veteran forward Brian Gionta, getting wiped out 6-0 in the first game of a playoff series is no grounds for panic.
So even if the Montreal Canadiens looked to be left for dead after their one-sided loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Gionta said more effort and a few adjustments to their game plan can get Montreal right back into the NHL Eastern Conference final.
He’s looking for it to start in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series on Tuesday night at the Wachovia Centre.
”A loss is a loss,” Gionta said Monday. ”You try to figure out what went wrong and, being the first game of a series, you have to look at things a little more deeply.
”I don’t think we’re that far off. It was a tough way to start, but it was mostly on ourselves. It wasn’t something they were doing special that we can’t react to. It’s a matter of us being prepared to play and executing what we want to do. None of that happened (Sunday) night. I have confidence that we’ll rebound and be able to come back with a better effort.”
The Canadiens held a team meeting to go over thier many lapses in Sunday’s Game 1, and only eight players went for a skate, mostly those who didn’t play or who saw limited ice time.
The general view was that the bigger, more physical Flyers wore down the Canadiens and succeeded in crowding the crease and making life miserable for goaltender Jaroslav Halak, whose heroics against first-place Washington and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh are the main reason the eighth-seeded Canadiens are even in the conference final.
The Canadiens note that they were blown out once each by the Capitals and Penguins in the first two rounds and both Halak and the team came back to win. The aim of those teams as well was to get bodies in front of Halak.
”I and his teammates have a lot of confidence in Jaro that he’ll be able to bounce back,” said coach Jacques Martin.
In the regular season, Halak was blown out by the Flyers just before the Olympic break, but came back to shut them out in Philadelphia in April, so the 25-year-old did not look too concerned.
”We faced this in the first and second series—get big guys in front of me,” said Halak. ”It’s the playoffs. They want to win the game as much as we do. We have to do a better job boxing guys out and we’ll be OK. I need to do a better job of (seeing the puck) too.”
Still, there is a suspicion that six-foot-five defenceman Ryan O’Byrne may be back in the lineup to try to counter some of Philadelphia’s physical play, which would likely cause Marc-Andre Bergeron to move up to forward on the fourth line so they can keep his big shot for the power play.
But five-foot-seven Gionta, the smallest player on either team, doesn’t feel his team was intimidated, even if they were outhit 27-19. For Gionta, brains plus effort beats brawn.
”It was a matter of winning individual battles—it has nothing to do with getting outhit,” he said. ”We just weren’t prepared to play from the start.
”We weren’t skating. They’ve got a forechecking team that’s going to get in and forecheck hard and we need to do a better job of moving the puck quicker and making them skate a little more. When they come hard on the forecheck, if you can make one or two good passes to beat it, it slows them up the next time.”
As a group, the Canadiens looked tired, while the Flyers appeared to be still charged up from their Game 7 victory over Boston only two nights before, when they completed a rare comeback from a 3-0 series deficit.
Montreal had only two or three good chances on Michael Leighton, who earned his first career playoff shutout for the Flyers.
Fourth-line winger Mathieu Darche said losing big in Game 1 may have been a blessing because it drove home the things Montreal needed to correct.
”It’s almost good,” he said. ”If Jaro stands on his head and we lose 2-1, it might hide some of the problems we had. But now it’s wide open and we see what we did wrong and we can adjust and move on.”
For Gionta, it is about getting back to the style of play the Canadiens have succeeded with since the start of play—five-man attacks and five-man defence.
”A lot of it is coming up together with more support through the neutral zone and being able to enter their zone with more support,” said the player many feel is the captain-less Canadiens unofficial captain. ”When you don’t do that, you’re not able to get on the forecheck as easily.
”You can’t get sustained pressure in their zone.”
Players who skated were goalie Carey Price, who relievedHalak in the second period, plus defencemen O’Byrne and Paul Mara, and forwards Darche, Benoit Pouliot, Ben Maxwell, Sergei Kostitsyn and Glen Metropolit.
At the end of the skate, Darche took Price’s catching glove and blocker and went in the net, but was careful not to get in front of any hard shots.
Asked if Darche was ready to be a goalie, a grinning Price said ”No chance. I have a better chance of playing forward.”