Sunday, May 16, 2010

Flyers Slaughter Montreal in First Battle of Conference Finals

By: Tim Brennan

Following a history making comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to the Boston Bruins in the conference semifinals, the Flyers were flying high and got set to take on another surprise team in the Montreal Canadiens. Both teams couldn't have scripted a better story, with Montreal going the distance twice to defeat the East's superpowers in Washington and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Philadelphia was making a tremendous run as well, knocking the Devils out in 5 games then the historic comeback that will be cemented in the memories of many.

When looking at this series, the Flyers have an considerable advantage in size and physicality while Montreal seems to be front runners in the speed and agility categories. Matchups are going to be difficult for Montreal as they were able to slow down Ovechkin and Crosby but with the Flyers, there isn't one superstar player on the team and all four lines contribute. Two of the biggest defensive factors for Montreal in the first two rounds was Hal Gill, who did an excellent job of shutting down Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh in the semifinals and limited chances for Washington, and P.K. Subban, who came into the Pittsburgh series and rattled the Penguins cage. Jaroslav Halak and Mike Cammalleri have been the best players for their team and arguably the playoffs so it's up to them to continue that success.

On the other side, Philadelphia would look to have towering defenseman Chris Pronger match up against Mike Cammalleri, who leads the playoffs with 12 goals. The second pairing of Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn would go up against the 2nd line of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Travis Moen. More than likely the Flyers will also want to have the Betts line up against the Canadiens top line because Betts, along with Darroll Powe and Andreas Nodl, have done a great job shutting down the opposing team's best forwards. And of course, Michael Leighton would be a huge factor for Philadelphia as he enters the series with just 4 goals against on 70 shots in 2 1/2 games.

If anyone thought that the Flyers push to overcome Boston was a fluke, they showed the doubters wrong by racking up 6 goals on Montreal to set the tone for the series. Michael Leighton collected his 2nd shutout in his 3rd playoff game start and frustrated the Canadiens all night. The offense was nothing short of spectacular as 7 Flyers posted a multi-point effort. Other factors that helped Philadelphia to a huge victory was a strong net presence, that led to the first 4 goals and Jaroslav Halak's departure from the contest. The Flyers also looked to be alot quicker than Montreal during the course of the game and were dominant in the physical department, racking up 27 hits to Montreal's 19. The Flyers shut down line of Betts, Powe and Nodl contributed 8 hits to the cause and played tight defensively against Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec.

Braydon Coburn started the game off with a bang as the blueliner swooped in from the point to jam in a lose puck for an early powerplay tally. A maze of players converged on the Montreal net after Ville Leino's toe drag shot and while a few player whacked away at it, Coburn came in and rammed the puck home for a 1-0 lead. It's a little surprising that Philadelphia left the 1st period with the lead after Montreal barraged Leighton with 13 shots, but the man who saved the Flyers season was up to the task.

The Flyers pounced on the Canadiens early in the 2nd when James van Riemsdyk, rejuvenated in Game 7 versus Boston after struggling in the first two rounds, got his own rebound and slammed it home for a 2-0 lead just 30 seconds in. The credit might as well have gone to Claude Giroux, who beat Scott Gomez on the offensive zone face-off and poked it in between the Montreal center's legs, where Giroux laid it off to van Riemsdyk. A short while later, Danny Briere scored with a quick slapshot to put Philadelphia up by 3. The Flyers worked the puck around until Briere gave the puck off to Matt Carle, who sent it right back and Briere tallied with Scott Hartnell screening Halak.

Montreal's fate was sealed when Simon Gagne scored a powerplay goal towards the half point of the game. Gagne's shot through traffic found it's way just inside of the right post and was the last goal that Halak would give up for the night. Montreal called on Carey Price to come in a relieve Halak after only stopping 10 of 14 shots. The change in net should have at least sparked the Canadiens, but all it did was get worse from there.

The Flyers outshot Montreal in the third and added two more goals of the sticks of Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux, cruising to a 6-0 win. The fans were going insane throughout the tilt and at one point started to serenade the Canadiens with an "ole-ole" chant that Montreal fans use when they are winning a game.

The Flyers capitalized on the Canadiens' mistakes as Montreal took undisciplined penalties that led to powerplay tallies for Philadelphia. Scott Gomez and Andrei Kostitsyn's over aggression forced Montreal to have to kill off penalties at the wrong time. And not only did penalties ruin their night, but the team's best player thus far got schlacked, leading to a change in goaltender. Mike Cammalleri wasn't even a factor in this game and mustered only 1 shot. The team's top two defensemen, Gill and Subban, combined for a -5 rating and were invisible the entire game. If Montreal is going to battle back, they need the whole team to work as one instead of individuals.

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