MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens have put themselves in another deep playoff hole and this time must try to find a way out against the defensively dominant Philadelphia Flyers.
Claude Giroux had two goals, Ville Leino had another and Michael Leighton needed only 17 saves to record his third shutout of the series as the Flyers took command of the NHL Eastern Conference final with a 3-0 victory Saturday.
The Flyers lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and can book their eighth trip to the Cup final with a win at home in Game 5 on Monday night. They won the Cup twice, in 1974 and 1975.
The Canadiens were in the same situation in the opening round against President’s Trophy-winning Washington and came back to win. And they were down 3-2 to defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh in the second round and won that one as well.
They are 5-0 when facing elimination in the playoffs so far.
“It’s a familiar feeling for us,” said Canadiens winger Michael Cammalleri. “We seem to play our best hockey in this situation. And here we go again.”
The Flyers are coming off a seven-game second round against Boston in which they became only the third team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit with four straight wins.
“I don’t think we’re overconfident,” said Philadelphia defenceman Chris Pronger, who got 31:07 of ice time—more than half the game. “Look at what Montreal did in the last two series.
“We were in a deeper hole ourselves against Boston. We know that nothing will be easy. We have to have that closer mentality.”
Leighton, a 29-year-old journeyman goaltender pressed into service after a raft of injuries in the Flyers’ crease, made some history as the Canadiens were shut out three times in one series for the first time in their 101-year history. Philadelphia opened the series with wins of 6-0 and 3-0 at home.
There wasn’t much work in this one, as the Flyers outshot the Canadiens 25-17, including 13-1 in the decisive second period.
“It’s nice any time you get a shutout, but I’m not really concerned about shutouts right now,” said Leighton, a Petrolia, Ont., native. “I’m looking at that next game.”
After a listless 5-1 loss in Game 3, the Flyers roared back with an aggressive forechecking game that stopped many Montreal attacks before they could get started, and a thorough defensive game that allowed few chances from the front of the net.
When it was over, the Canadiens talked about losing too many battles and letting themselves be outplayed on home ice. A tight-checking game with few good chances at either end offered dull hockey to the 21,273 in the Bell Centre.
“They won more battles than we did and made sharper passes, tape-to-tape, and supported each other better than we did,” added Cammalleri. “All those little things we lacked. That’s why that second period was what it was.”
It was a nightmare for the Canadiens, who tied the team’s all-time low for shots in a period set in 1983 and equalled in 1994. Their one shot was a bad-angle attempt from Maxim Lapierre that was easily stopped.
Meanwhile, the Flyers jumped on two turnovers in the period to score.
Kimmo Timonen intercepted an errant pass by Lapierre and hit Giroux on the fly. Giroux got around Josh Gorges—whose loose ankle guard got caught on his skate blade and prevented him from turning—and beat Halak with a high shot from in close at 5:41.
After a P.K. Subban rush was broken up at the Flyers’ blue-line, Pronger sent Leino in alone to beat Halak with a deke at 14:53. It was Leino’s 12th point in 12 playoff games, one more than he had over the entire regular season.
Giroux added his second of the game into an empty net with 1:13 left to play.
“The trouble was we didn’t get the puck in deep,” said Montreal coach Jacques Martin. “We turned it over numerous times.
“We played in dangerous zones—the blue lines. In this type of game you need to be patient and manage the puck well. We kept the puck in front of their defence instead of behind them.”
The Canadiens also lost speedy winger Tom Pyatt, who left after the second period with an upper body injury. His condition will be evaluated on Sunday.
Scoring star Jeff Carter returned to the Flyers’ lineup after missing 11 games with a broken bone in his right foot. He made his presence felt during a first-period power play as he put a move on Travis Moen and went in alone only to be stopped by Jaroslav Halak.
Moments later, six-foot-seven Hal Gill lay across the crease to stop a puck during a wild scramble around Halak’s net. The Flyers argued for a penalty shot, but didn’t get it as Gill did not draw the puck into his body.
Montreal had an early chance as Tomas Plekanec got a close range shot through Leighton’s pads, but the puck slid wide of the post. A wild scramble late in the third also failed to produce a goal.
Ian Laperriere, who wore a full face shield, returned from a brain contusion for the Flyers. Dan Carcillo and Andreas Nodl were scratched.
Durig the game, several Flyers had to rush to their dressing room to have their skates sharpened. NBC television reported there was sand on the walkway from their room to the rink, but neither coach Peter Laviolette nor any players would confirm it.
Notes: Including the 82-game regular season, it was Montreal’s 100th official game of the season and Philadelphia’s 98th. … Montreal had no lineup changes.