Everything you really need to know about why the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final occurred on the last scoring play of the series.
With Jaroslav Halak on the bench and the Canadiens desperate to tie the game in the last minute, Tomas Plekanec picked up the puck inside his own blueline. Before he had time to move it, Flyers captain Mike Richards was all over him, knocking him over and creating the loose puck that Jeff Carter gobbled up and deposited into the empty net, sending Philly to a 4-2 Game 5 victory and a 4-1 series win.
All the effort, hustle and determination was exhibited by No. 18 in orange, while all the out-worked Plekanec could do was watch his team’s unexpected playoff run finally come to an end while laying on the ice.
The Flyers’ top-four defense crew of Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn was lauded for its ability to neutralize Montreal’s forwards, but it also rarely seemed like the Canadiens attackers were doing all they could to muster up much offense. They continuously tried to skate through a wall of defenders at the blueline, an approach that did nothing but create odd-man rushes going the other way. Even on the power play, Montreal had extreme difficulty gaining any real estate inside the Philadelphia zone.
Philly, meanwhile, got great work that started with Richards, filtered down through offense-minded guys like Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux and, in the clincher, even grinders like Arron Asham were putting the puck in the net.
The last time this series was in real doubt was after the first period of Game 4. The Habs had just throttled the Flyers in Game 3 and after 20 minutes, they seemed to be skating their opponents into the ground and ready to square the series 2-2 despite the 0-0 score.
Then Philly cranked things up, outshot Montreal 13-1 in that middle frame and completely took control of the series in the process. Michael Leighton is full marks for the three shutouts he posted in a five-game set, but, ultimately, he had far too much idle time and saw too many shots from the outside to think the Canadiens had any real chance of pulling off a third consecutive upset.
We’re all about to find out just how good Philly’s Big 4 is, as the big, fast flock of Chicago Blackhawks forwards are revved up and ready to go.
Good as those Hawks have been, they’ll have their work cut out for them trying to penetrate the Pronger-led group. But the most pressing issue for Chicago is that inferno burning in Richards’ eyes – especially if it keeps spreading to his teammates.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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