Fresh off their exciting Qualifying Round victory over the Penguins, the Habs officially kicked off the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers. The growth continued for the Canadiens top centres in Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki, as they continued to centre the top lines. The Habs played a good hockey game but the puck would not bounce their way as Philadelphia took the game 2-1.
Both teams came to play in this game and there was some excellent pace back and forth. Each had some close calls around the net as well. Early on it looked like the Habs wanted Phillip Danault against the Flyers’ top line and Suzuki against the second line, leaving Kotkaniemi’s line with a slightly favourable matchup.
Philadelphia got the first power play chance of the series when Jonathan Drouin got called for slashing. Despite not scoring with the man advantage in the round robin, the Flyers managed to find the first goal of the series. A point shot from Ivan Provorov was accidentally tipped up high by Paul Byron and found its way through a screened Carey Price.
Shortly after the goal, Artturi Lehkonen had Montreal’s best chance of the period when he picked up a loose puck and went in alone on Carter Hart. He deked to the backhand but slid the puck just outside the post.
Late in the period, Brett Kulak plucked a pass out of the air at centre ice, he brought it in and around and sent it at the net. There was a scramble in front with Lehkonen leading the charge, but Hart barely kept it out. Despite being outshot 11-5 and outscored 1-0, the Canadiens played a decent first period, but there was still lots of work to be done.
The second period started with some four-on-four action after Kotkaniemi and Travis Konecny each got roughing penalties to end the first. There were some good chances from Kulak, Lehkonen and Byron that set the tone for the period.
The Habs got their feet under them in the second, and they were skating hard at Philadelphia. Montreal was using their speed to put pressure on the Flyers and force turnovers. They were buzzing all over the ice, but the puck would not cooperate, and the Habs could not get any bounces to go their way around the net. Lehkonen looked to have a breakaway with Ben Chiarot on the wing and simply fell, though they had a couple of chances later on in the shift with no success.
The Flyers looked to have a sure goal later on in the period, however, while out of his net Price desperately threw his stick in the air and tipped the wide-open shot from Scott Laughton over the net and wide.
With six minutes left, Montreal got their first power play of the playoffs when Nicolas Aube-Kubel was called for holding. Just like Philly, Montreal was able to find their first goal on the man advantage. Shea Weber took a shot from the left point; there was a scramble in front and Weber went towards the net to finish off what he started to make it 1-1.
The tie was short-lived. Sixteen seconds later, the rebound off of a Travis Sanheim point shot came right to Joel Farabee and he put it in to give the Flyers their lead back. The Canadiens pushed back once again after the goal, but Hart came up with some key saves to send Montreal into the dressing room still down by one goal.
After a fairly quiet first five minutes in the final regulation frame, Max Domi and Farabee got sent off for roughing. During the four-on-four, a weak tripping penalty was called against Lehkonen. Chiarot, Weber, and Danault did a great job to kill off the four on three.
The penalty kill was called on again when Chiarot was forced to take a hooking call on Sean Couturier in front of the net with just over eight minutes to go. Montreal got it killed, giving them just over six minutes to try and tie it up.
Montreal pulled Price with just under two minutes to go to make one last push. Danault had a great tip chance in front but Hart got it with the pads. With 26 seconds left, Suzuki got set up in the high slot, but his shot hit the post and went out. In the end, the Flyers escaped with an undeserved win to take the 1-0 series lead.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Brett Kulak
Kulak was great on both sides of the puck tonight. He joined the rush frequently and set up plenty of scoring chances. He was the best Montreal defenceman when it came to creating offence.
Stats: -1, 1 block, 20:21 TOI
Second Star – Artturi Lehkonen
Much like Kulak on defence, Lehkonen was by far the forward with the most scoring chances tonight. He was all over the net all game and did a great job of forcing turnovers on the forecheck. If he had any puck luck, Lehkonen could have easily had a goal or two.
Stats: -1, 3 SOG, 4 hits, 16:53 TOI
Third Star – Shea Weber
Weber finally broke the Montreal power play drought in the second period with a great effort for the goal. He was also invaluable in the penalty kills in the third period to keep the game close.
Stats: 1G, 3 SOG, 1 hit, 2 blocks, 22:08 TOI
Honourable Mention- Phillip Danault
Danault was phenomenal in the faceoff circle, which was very important to help the Habs’ possession game. I also believe that he, Lehkonen and Byron were the Habs’ best forward line all night. He also saved a goal with a diving poke check during the four on three penalty kill.
Stats: -1, 2 SOG, 5 hits, 1 block, 20:59 TOI