MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens found an answer for hot goaltender Michael Leighton and the Philadelphia Flyers—speed and quick puck movement.
The quick-footed Canadiens skated rings around the listless-looking Flyers as they jumped back into the NHL Eastern Conference final with a 5-1 victory on Thursday night.
The Flyers still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 going into Game 4 Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre.
”Overall, we moved the puck better, we came up the ice together, with support, we entered the zone better,” said Montreal forward Brian Gionta. “With that going, it’s easier to get to the net and get opportunities.”
Michael Cammalleri and Tom Pyatt scored in the first period to end Leighton’s two-game shutout string. Gionta, Dominic Moore and Marc-Andre Bergeron, with Montreal’s first power play marker of the series, also scored.
Montreal’s third line of Moore, Pyatt and Maxim Lapierre shone as the Canadiens served notice they won’t fade away meekly after series-opening losses of 6-0 and 3-0 in Philadelphia.
”When you’re down 2-0 you have to find a way,” said Montreal centre Scott Gomez. ”But we’ve still got a long way to go.
”Being down 2-0’s tough, but you have to look at the big picture. They won at home, so we want to win at home. That’s the way we were taught. And the next game will be tougher because you can bet (Flyers coach Peter) Laviolette will have that team going. He’s a good coach.”
The Canadiens ended the Flyers’ six-game winning streak and handed Leighton his first loss in five post-season starts.
Simon Gagne broke Jaroslav Halak’s shutout bid in the third period with his seventh goal in as many games since returning from a toe injury. Montreal outshot Philadelphia 38-26.
”They caught up to us, but we’ll be better next game,” said Laviolette. ”In my experience, it’s not about momentum, it’s always about desperation. Desperate teams are tough teams.”
Leighton saw his shutout run end when Cammalleri scored his 13th of the playoffs at 7:05 of the first period.
“It was nice to get one,” Cammalleri said. “We just tried to get the puck past their defence and go to the net and the puck jumped out to me.”
His shutout streak covered 172:55, second-longest in Flyers history behind Brian Boucher’s 184:45 in 2000. He had stopped 74 consecutive shots dating back to a Milan Lucic goal in the first period of Game 7 of the last round against Boston.
Halak made sharp saves early and then had little work as the Canadiens used their speed to outhustle the dazed-looking Flyers, who committed numerous turnovers and spent much of the game standing around watching.
“Turnovers in any sport will kill you,” Laviolette said. “We’ve got to do a better job of fighting for the puck and keeping the puck.”
For a third straight game, Montreal held a wide shot advantage in the first period (17-9), only this time, they scored twice.
P.K. Subban, who had three assists and was plus-3, drilled a shot off the end boards that Cammalleri banked in off Leighton for the Canadiens first goal of the series, and Cammalleri’s 13th of the playoffs.
”It was a good boost for the club, especially the guys on the bench and the crowd,” said Subban. ”When they get going, it’s a tough building (for opponents) to play in.”
Subban’s defence partner Roman Hamrlik had a huge game, with two assists, plus-4 and he absorbed a beating from tough Flyers forward Scott Hartnell in the final minutes of the game.
Montreal went up 2-0 when Flyers veteran Chris Pronger lost the puck off the end of his stick, and Moore took it and rang a shot off the post. Pyatt picked up the rebound and put it into an open side. The goal stood up to video review to see if it was kicked in.
The Flyers killed off a 52-second two-man advantage to start the second frame, although Cammalleri rang a shot off the post.
It was a tough night for Pronger and his defence partner Matt Carle, both minus-3.
Montreal was even more dominant in the second, and stretched the lead when the Flyers twice failed to clear the puck from their zone and Moore’s shot from the highslot went in with Lapierre screening Leighton.
Gionta scored two minutes into the third after Hamrlik slipped the puck behind the Flyers’ defence.
That had the 21,273 in the seats singing their “Ole Ole” song, which Flyers fans had sung to taunt them in the first two games of the series.
Gagne, who has scored in four straight games, took a pass from Dan Carcillo in the slot, spun and sent a shot along the ice that went in off a post at 8:22. It was his seventh goal in seven games since returning from a toe injury.
The Flyers reverted to form and initiated a skirmish with just under two minutes to play and that, plus a Braydon Coburn minor gave Montreal another two-man advantage. Bergeron wired in a point blast for Montreal’s first power play goal in 14 chances in the series.
Moore’s line combined for two goals on nine shots and did much to help Montreal control the puck and keep it in the Flyers zone.
”The three of us all have pretty good speed and that can be intimidating at times getting in on the forecheck,’ said Moore. ”And defensively, getting back and being in the right spots, we’re pretty aggressive as well.”
Cammalleri’s goal moved him alone into fourth place for goals in one playoff year by a Canadien.
Notes: Defenceman Ryan O’Byrne returned after sitting three games and Benoit Pouliot was back after one. Mathieu Darche and Sergei Kostitsyn were scratched for Montreal. . . Flyers centre Jeff Carter missed an 11th game with a broken bone in his foot. He skated Thursday morning, and may be back later in the series. . . It was Montreal’s first win in six games in which they outshot their opponent in the playoffs.