MONTREAL – It seems that it is goalscoring and not goaltending that is at the root of the Montreal Canadiens’ playoff predicament.
Debate raged after coach Guy Carbonneau named backup Jaroslav Halak as the starter for Game 4 of their playoff series against Philadelphia, but the result was the same – the Canadiens lost 4-2 despite outshooting the Flyers by a wide margin.
Now the sixth-seeded Flyers lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and can advance to the Eastern Conference final with a victory in Game 5 on Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET).
Halak proved no better or worse than rookie Carey Price had been in the first three games, allowing three goals (the fourth was into an empty net) on 26 shots, the first of them a weak one to the inside post by R.J. Umberger.
Now Carbonneau has two days to decide which of his young goalies will start in the win-or-go-home game on Saturday, but bigger questions remain for a Montreal team whose attack has run dry.
The Canadiens led the NHL this season with 262 goals, but they scored only 10 goals in the opening four games against the Flyers, six of them in the third period while battling to get back into games in which they fell behind.
Their power play, best in the league in the regular season, has not fully bounced back after a dry opening round against Boston with four goals in as many games.
Overall, they have outshot the Flyers 142-96, have had possession of the puck the majority of the time, and have hit countless goalposts and crossbars, but still they lose to the more opportunistic Flyers.
Martin Biron’s solid play in the Flyers’ net combined with the so-so play of Montreal’s goalies only partly explains it. Giveaways at bad moments have also hurt the Habs while the Flyers, who have scoring talent three lines deep, are much better at converting chances than the punchless Bruins were in the first round.
There was a look of urgency to the Canadiens’ game on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, but they will need more of it to stave off elimination.
The Flyers were up 3-1 on Washington in their first-round series but the Capitals came back to force a decisive Game 7 before Joffrey Lupul put Philadelphia through with an overtime winner.
Flyers centre Daniel Briere expects the Canadiens to come out hard.
“We know the last win will be the toughest and I am expecting Montreal to play with a lot more urgency, a little bit like Washington did to us in games five, six and seven,” Briere said on a conference call in Philadelphia.
“It’s been a weird series so far. But at the same time, we’ve said all along we can’t worry about the other team. We have to worry about us. We are trying to improve our play.”
Biron said the Flyers learned in the opening round what awaits them in trying to close out Montreal. And they will have to be ready for it.
“We were up 2-0 in Game 6 at home against Washington and ended up losing that one,” said Biron. “I think you have to know that until the job is totally done, anything can happen and that is where our desperation and urgency has to come from.
“When you play a team that is desperate, that doesn’t see any other option but winning, that gives them an edge. Being on the other side, you have to have that same edge in your game. The fourth win is the toughest.”
The Canadiens were in the opposite spot in the first round, going up 3-1 on Boston and then having the Bruins tie it up. But Price got the shutout as Montreal beat the Bruins 5-0 in Game 7.
Carbonneau gave his players the day off Thursday to rest their bumps and bruises but they were to return to the ice Friday.