The Habs returned to the Bell Centre ice on Thursday night trying to string together some wins to stay in control of their postseason fate. They were hosting the Flyers who were visiting for the second time this season, winning the first game 5-2 in a contest that saw Carter Hart easily outplay Antti Niemi. Hart was once again the starter for the Flyers, but this time he faced Carey Price.
The defensive pairings remained the same, while the forward lines returned to their recent configuration with Phillip Danault returning to the team after the birth of his son. His centred the top unit flanked by Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin. The second unit saw Tomas Tatar, Max Domi, and Andrew Shaw while the third consisted of Joel Armia, Paul Byron, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Finally, the latest version of the fourth line saw Matthew Peca, Nate Thompson, and Artturi Lehkonen play together. The return to these lines was a good decision as the game was never in question. The Habs absolutely dominated from the opening faceoff as they took off and never looked back as they ended the night with a 5-1 victory.
In a first period that was completely dominated by the Habs, they opened the scoring only 58 seconds in. Danault skated through the neutral zone while protecting the puck against some weak poke-checks by Flyers defenders. He gained the offensive zone in control before sending the puck to Gallagher on his wing. Gallagher cut in the middle and shot low blocker on Hart for a quick lead.
Domi tried the exact same play on the next shift but Shaw missed the net with his shot before Jeff Petry hit the post on the next shift.
With still 16:49 to play, Jordie Benn made a strong play to send Byron through the neutral zone with speed. It was Byron’s turn to gain the zone before finding Kotkaniemi who picked the same spot as Gallagher to extend the lead.
Four minutes later, Tatar hooked Oskar Lindblom to send the Flyers to the man advantage. The Flyers got two good chances, one by Claude Giroux that Price turned aside, and a second by James Van Riemsdyk that hit the post.
The Habs killed the rest of the power play and then buried young Hart. With 9:27 left in the period, Danault won the offensive zone draw and Gallagher skated to the corner where he grabbed the puck and fired it on net. The puck squeezed between Hart’s pad and the post for a weak goal that chased the netminder from the game.
Brian Elliott’s subsequent entrance coincided with the Habs slowing down as the game became rather eventless for the remainder of the first period. The exception was the last minute, where the Habs returned to the attack with some good scoring chances that Elliott turned aside with the period ending with a 15-8 shot advantage for the Habs.
It only took 20 seconds for Gallagher to get back on the scoresheet in the second period, but this time it was for an offensive zone tripping penalty. Price made three excellent saves in the opening seconds of the power play, and the Flyers continued to attack for most of the two minutes.
Price held the fort long enough for Gallagher to exit the penalty box, find the puck and skate up the ice but he was not able to shoot due to a good backcheck by Nolan Patrick. Shaw was able to get the puck back and sent it to the front of the net where Gallagher chipped it past Elliott for his first career hat-trick.
Four minutes later, Tatar made it 5-0. He intercepted an errant pass and made a spin-o-rama pass to Domi who skated in and barely missed the net. Shaw was once again effective on the forecheck as he won his battle before finding Tatar who picked the top corner.
Much like the first period, the extension of the lead led to the Habs taking their foot off the pedal somewhat in the second half of the frame. Before the midway point, Price robbed Giroux from the slot on a one-timer. He continued to make saves, though the Flyers were mostly going through the motions at this point, making the saves rather easy.
Play picked up in the last two minutes. Kulak skated in, made a nice pass to Domi who fanned on the shot, but the puck found its way directly to Tatar who fired only to be robbed by a sliding Elliott. Philadelphia fired right back as Price was forced to slide across to stop an odd-man rush. Price was then lucky as the rebound went to the Flyers player who missed an empty net. The period ended 11-10 in shots for Habs, but the 5-0 score was more indicative of how tilted the ice really was.
The Habs came out firing once again for the third period. The initial shift by the Danault line was spent entirely in the Flyers zone as Gallagher came within inches of scoring a fourth goal on a rebound from a Weber point shot. Kotkaniemi also displayed his patience with the puck when he found Armia in the slot who missed his shot.
After a strong beginning for Montreal, Philadelphia had clearly reduced their effort and was going through the motions. On the other hand, the Habs were playing rather safe but continued to skate and win puck battles. At the midway point of the period, an offensive zone entry by the Flyers ended with a puck on the stick of Shayne Gostisbehere at the blue line. His weak shot was redirected past Price by Michael Raffl to end the shutout bid and make the score 5-1.
This gave the Flyers momentary life as they attacked again on the next shift and almost surprised Price being a little nonchalant behind his own net but they didn’t score.
With both teams going through the motions, perhaps even more so now that the Flyers had scored, the rest of the game flew by without much noteworthy happening. With 4:33 to play, Lehkonen was guilty of tripping Gostisbehere as the Flyers got their third man advantage of the night. However, they were really playing without conviction and Montreal was able to kill the penalty without allowing a real scoring chance during the sequence. Shots in the final period were 14-12 for the Canadiens.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Brendan Gallagher
His first career hat trick and scoring the game’s first goal in the first minute of play; the leader was his usual self with a little puck luck sprinkled in to go with the usual determination and dedication. Even at 5-0, Gallagher was standing in front of the net trying to tip home Shea Weber’s cannon. Awesome performance from the heart and soul of the forward group.
Stats: 3 goals, +2, 6 shots, 3 hits, 13:36 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Andrew Shaw
Shaw’s determination on the forecheck was unmatched by the Flyers and led directly to at least two of the Montreal goals. Shaw has been consistently noticeable since his return, and this has been almost exclusively positive. This season’s edition of Andrew Shaw is without a doubt the best we’ve seen in Montreal and entirely justifies Bergevin trading for him and awarding him with such a lucrative contract.
Stats: 1 assist, +2, 1 shot, 1 hit, 13:39 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
This kid just keeps impressing. He’s well-positioned when he doesn’t have the puck, intelligent with it, and is talented and patient to make plays happen. Recently, he’s also taken a liking to getting in traffic and getting involved in the game’s rougher exchanges. When he adds some muscle to his frame, these last two elements might push him into the elite category. What an incredibly solid pick by Bergevin, Timmins and Co.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 13:17 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Matthew Peca
One of the few Habs to not score a point in the game, Peca was still completing his best Gallagher impersonation. Forechecking hard, relentless puck pursuit, fighting to get to the front of the net, Peca was dangerous all night long. If he keeps playing like he did tonight, it won’t be long until this fourth line becomes a contributing segment of the roster… one can only hope.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 5 shots, 1 hit, 13:25 T.O.I.