The Habs returned to action Tuesday hoping to cure some scoring woes after a decent effort was thwarted by Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks on Saturday. This was essentially a win or go home scenario for both the Canadiens and Flyers, so there was little doubt that intensity would be ramped up quite quickly. As a positive pre-game note, the Habs had won the previous two contests between the teams with a combined 10-3 score. Carey Price and Carter Hart were in goal and Claude Julien opted to keep Saturday’s lineup returning to the lines that were present at the start of the contest. Unlike Saturday, the execution matched the effort as the Habs played quite well. The Flyers were also desperate for the win and so the Habs bent but did not break in the third on their way to a well-earned 3-1 win for an all-important two points.
It was a cautious start to the game for both teams as neither wanted to commit the first mistake of the game to hand the opposition the ever important first goal. Much like the last week and a half, the Canadiens were skating quite well, though it was apparent early that a few differences were noticeable early on as well. For starters, the execution of the passes was crisp and accurate which allowed the Habs to break out in control of the puck and therefore attack the opposition blue line instead of constantly dumping the puck. Also, there appeared to be no passengers early as early standouts included Jeff Petry, Tomas Tatar, Artturi Lehkonen and Saturday’s centre of controversy, Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Though the first five minutes included some good back and forth action, the defensive coverage was tight as both teams were kept to the perimeter.
As the period got closer to the midway point, Montreal’s solid play overwhelmed the Flyers as they took over the period. With four minutes to play, Kotkaniemi put on some nice moves on Shayne Gostisbehere and drove the net as Hart looked behind him after a good shot by the rookie. With a little under two minutes to play, Phillip Danault handled the pressure from two Flyers at the offensive blue line and maintained possession to allow a Christian Folin point shot. Brendan Gallagher jumped on the rebound and buried it five-hole for the first goal of the game. Shots in the period were 11-8 for the Habs.
The second didn’t start quite as well as Brett Kulak made a risky pinch that did not work, and this put the Habs in their defensive zone for the first few minutes of the period. Some good puck work by Victor Mete got the Habs out of their end and gave Max Domi a good shot on Hart that was blocked by a defender.
Five minutes into the period, Andrew Shaw won a faceoff and Domi was quick to pounce on the puck. He was patient enough for Shea Weber to get open and then the one-timer was deployed while Shaw and Lehkonen were screening Hart who never saw the shot as the captain made it 2-0.
Philadelphia returned to the attack after the goal, but the Habs were really on point defensively as Price rarely had to make a second save on plays. Of course, it helps that Price was on point too and wasn’t leaving many rebounds.
With the Habs up by two, the Flyers desperation climbed a notch in the second half of the period. While the Canadiens maintained their cool and effective defensive posture, the home side attacked relentlessly and were able to find some lanes for cross-ice passes that forced Price to make his most difficult saves up to this point in the contest.
An excellent presence by Jonathan Drouin and Kotkaniemi got the Habs some offensive time. The Flyers fought back on the sequence and Petry was lucky not to get called for holding, though Radko Gudas also got away with some infractions on Drouin on the same shift, so it was definitely some playoff officiating happening for both teams. Shots in the period were 15-12 for the Flyers for an even 23 shots apiece heading to the third.
The Canadiens came out strong in the third as Domi forced an important save from Hart early in the period. For the first five minutes, the Flyers attempted to attack, but Montreal’s defensive play was once again impenetrable as the attacks were mostly one-and-done and from the perimeter. The only Philadelphia shot attempt in the first five minutes did not count since it hit the post so the luck was finally on the Habs side to start this period.
With under 13 minutes to play, Folin (who was playing without his stick) was guilty of holding in front of Price’s net for the game’s first and only penalty. The Flyers controlled the puck in the offensive zone, and once they finally moved their feet, they were able to get a few scoring chances until Sean Couturier finally tucked a puck under Price to cut the lead to only one with a half period still to go.
With both teams feeling like their season was on the line and a one-goal game, the pace of play augmented considerably in the final minutes. The Flyers were quite aggressive, but so were the Montreal defenders as Philadelphia fans were often calling for penalties against Montreal players, often against Weber who was making the Flyers pay for every inch of ice they wanted.
With Philly applying crazy pressure and Hart on the bench, Nate Thompson and Shaw paid the price to complete a zone clearance. Domi won the race to the puck and tucked it into the net to secure the win. The final shot count was 36-33 for the Habs.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher made some strong defensive plays, caused turnovers on the forecheck, and scored the all-important first goal to get the team going. This last one was of colossal importance with Montreal’s recent offensive struggles. What else can one expect from the leader of the forwards, simply another clutch effort from Gallagher?
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 4 shots, 16:15 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Shea Weber
This was Weber’s best game in a long long time. He was physical in all three zones which was a direct result of him being far more aggressive than he had been recently. He was rewarded for this with a goal and with the benefit of the doubt on a few checks that likely would have resulted in penalties in October. His aggressive play also allowed Victor Mete to settle and play quick and smart. Mete’s pinches were well timed as he was confident that his partner had his back. This is the Weber we need down the stretch.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 5 shots, 5 hits, 20:32 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Artturi Lehkonen
When was the last time Lehkonen was such a force on the ice? Must be October, right? He was effective on the forecheck, delivered hits, and created some offensive chances! He continues to be incredibly unlucky as he trips in front of the net or hits the post. The contemporary Jan Bulis was an important player on Max Domi’s wing on this night, and if he’s playing like this, no one should be complaining about his spot on the roster.
Stats: 0 points, +1, 1 shot, 3 hits, 16:35 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Claude Julien was heavily criticized for his use of the rookie on Saturday night, but one must admit that Kotkaniemi was nowhere to be found since being scratched for a few games at the beginning of the month. This time, Kotkaniemi reacted positively as he played his best game in a long time too. He couldn’t get on the scoresheet, but the play on Gostisbehere in the first period was a sign that the offensive contributions are not far away from returning for the ultra-talented rookie. Kotkaniemi was once again on the bench for the final five minutes, but in the situation of defending a one-goal lead, it was far more acceptable than Saturday night.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 12:37 T.O.I.