Speed and transition won the day for the Philadelphia Flyers and earned them a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens.
The strength of Bob Gainey’s Canadiens was supposed to be speed. The team was discredited in September for being too small; sure they’d be quick, but they’d be pushed around too easily.
In the first period of Game 4, the Habs were using their strengths to their advantage. Scott Gomez pulled and end-to-end rush to create a scoring chance and Tomas Plekanec blew past the big Flyer defense to set up down low – this is how they created chances. Sure the score was 0-0 after 20 minutes, but the Bell Centre was chanting and it seemed it was only a matter of time before the Habs were going to blow the roof off the arena by taking a lead.
And that’s when one of Philly’s flying Frenchmen, Claude Giroux, caught Josh Gorges off-guard with an equipment malfunction, using his speed to angle in and put the puck past Jaroslav Halak over the short-side shoulder on a terrific play. Suddenly the Habs seemed deflated and the crowd was nowhere near as jovial. That play wasn’t in the script; this was Montreal’s game.
Turning the tide in their favor, the Flyers went right for the jugular and did everything they could to take away the Habs’ speed game. They clogged the neutral zone like an old New Jersey Devils team and held Montreal to a single, 180-foot shot in the second period.
But Philadelphia also countered the Canadiens with a taste of their own medicine. While Giroux’s goal was a result of streaking speed, Ville Leino’s breakaway marker to give Philadelphia a 2-0 advantage was setup by a quick transition pass from Chris Pronger.
The Flyers were all over the Canadiens on the forecheck and forced a ton of mistakes. P.K. Subban really looked like a rookie and will likely not see much ice time in Game 5. Perhaps frustrated by the machine-like defensive holds and up-and-outs the Flyers shut them down with, the Canadiens were making too many solo rushes that weren’t creating any opportunities and ultimately clogged up their attack. And when they did get in low, the Habs didn’t take enough shots and looked for the pretty play too often against a hot goalie.
Simply put, the Flyers clearly outmatched the Canadiens in the most crucial home game of the season for Montreal. While you can’t count out the resilient Canadiens yet, the Flyers didn’t let them build on any momentum in front of a vocal home crowd and hold the high ground heading home.
In the West, the Chicago Blackhawks are coming with a ton of speed and a ton of weight in their roll to the Cup final. In the East, Philadelphia is bringing the same qualities to the table and, after both won crucial games, the two are on a collision course to put an end to one of their prolonged Stanley Cup droughts.
VIDEO: Simon Gagne and Danny Briere rising to the challenge
Simon Gagne and Daniel Briere have both been key contributors in the Flyers’ 2010 playoff run. But there is still a lot of work to do and Gagne and Briere both recognize the Flyers will need them both playing their best hockey to beat the resilient Montreal Canadiens. THN’s Ken Campbell takes a closer look at the Flyers’ dynamic duo. PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
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Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His blog appears regularly.
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