Daniel Briere’s power play marker 4:16 into the first period proved to be the winner and Michael Leighton notched his second-consecutive shutout as the Flyers won 3-0 to take a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal versus Montreal.
Montreal did some of the things most felt they had to do to bounce back from a 6-0 demolition Sunday night, but many of the same problems reared their ugly heads again in Game 2.
The Canadiens’ diminutive forwards were once again unable to get to the front of Flyers goalie Michael Leighton’s net. The Habs outshot the Flyers 30-23, but most of those volleys came from the outside with little or no traffic in front of Leighton.
Montreal’s top two centers were again unable to meet the compete level needed to best the bigger Flyers. Tomas Plekanec was a virtual non-factor and Scott Gomez’s most important contribution to the contest was a penalty early in the first period that nullified a Montreal power play and led to Briere’s winner.
The Flyers spent all night gaining the neutral zone with excellent breakouts; not so much with stretch passes, but by holding onto the puck for an extra stride to create creases in the Montreal team defense and find seams in the passing lanes. Philadelphia entered the Montreal zone with speed – and numbers – much of the night.
The Flyers power play, too, proved another strong point, as Philly went 2-for-4 with the man advantage and is now 4-for-10 for the series. On the flip side, the Canadiens moved to 0-for-8 on the power play versus Philadelphia.
Leighton, doing his best Brian Boucher impersonation, has now stopped all 58 shots the Canadiens have directed his way during the series without much difficulty and has thoroughly outplayed Montreal goaltender and post-season hero Jaroslav Halak. If Boucher was the story of Philly’s first round, Leighton is fast becoming the story of the third.
Philly’s forwards are also heating up and looking dominant, led by Briere, who has nine goals and 18 points in his past 11 games. The Flyers’ other Quebec natives are also proving to be difference-makers: Simon Gagne has been dangerous since returning from injury and leading the Flyers to four-straight, historic victories versus Boston and Claude Giroux is maturing before our very eyes – he was excellent Tuesday, drawing the Gomez penalty and setting-up Briere’s winner with a beautiful backhand pass.
(Finn Ville Leino is also emerging as a difference-maker after an indifferent regular season. The experience he gained during Detroit’s run to the final last year has proved invaluable to him and the Flyers.)
Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta have 19 of the Habs’ 39 goals this post-season and if the Canadiens are to get back in this series Thursday in Montreal, Plekanec – who hasn’t scored in 10 games – and Gomez – 14 contests without a goal – must pick up some of the offensive slack. The Canadiens will also have to figure out a way to slow the Flyers through the neutral zone and put more pressure on Leighton in his blue paint.
If not, Games 3 and 4 in the Bell Centre will be the last Montreal fans witness first hand this season.
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