The first round series between the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers shifted to a pivotal Game 3 on Sunday night. Montreal was the ‘home’ team for the game, and they were looking to build off their stellar Game 2 victory. Much like Game 1, the Flyers got a lucky break to take the lead early, and the Habs couldn’t get any luck in the offensive zone. Philadelphia ended up winning the game 1-0, despite being outplayed most of the night by Montreal.
Obviously, Kirk Muller and the coaching staff stuck with the same lineup that was so successful in the last game. The game got off to a fast, hard-hitting start, but it was the Flyers taking the early advantage this time around. After an icing call five minutes into the game, there was a faceoff in the Montreal zone. Philadelphia won the draw, and the rebound from their point shot took a lucky bounce off Jakub Voracek and sailed over Carey Price.
The Canadiens looked for a quick response, and after a strong zone entry, Jesperi Kotkaniemi ripped a hard shot that went bar down but stayed out of the net. Just seconds later, Brett Kulak ripped a point shot that also hit the crossbar, this time bouncing out of play. To make matters worse, Kotkaniemi took a high sticking penalty on the same shift as Nate Thompson had the tiniest cut on his nose, resulting in a double minor. Price and the Habs played some strong defence and killed off a rather uneventful four minutes.
Kotkaniemi, along with his linemates Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi, continued to look very strong in the opening period. They were all over the zone, however, their pressure did not result in a goal in the opening frame. The Habs had another strong penalty kill late in the first period after a weak interference penalty on Jeff Petry. Despite playing a decent twenty minutes, the Canadiens found themselves on the wrong side of a 1-0 score heading to the second period.
The second period started with some good chances for the Habs and five minutes in, they got their first chance with the man advantage after a cross-checking call. Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber each had dangerous chances early, but no luck on the power play.
Most of the middle frame featured low event hockey with the Flyers mostly just playing not to give up a goal. The Habs would get their chances, but much like Game 1, the puck was bouncing against them.
Nine minutes in, Alex Belzile was tripped at centre ice. Philadelphia was aggressive on the Canadiens high in the zone and Montreal could not make an adjustment to find any chances down low. With seven seconds left, Carter Hart fired the puck over the glass to give the Habs another chance.
A second weak interference call (this one on Joel Armia) negated the man advantage. However, while the Canadiens were shorthanded, Nick Suzuki got the best chance of the period when he hit another post, but the puck stayed out. Montreal pushed for the rest of the second period, but there were no equalizers to be found, so it was still 1-0 entering the final period of regulation.
Just seconds into the third period, Kotkaniemi made a play into the zone and fired a shot but hit ANOTHER post. The Habs played almost the entirety of the first six minutes of the third period without incident until Domi was called for slashing. The Habs killed off the penalty rather easily, but referee Chris Lee gifted the Flyers another power play shortly thereafter as Xavier Ouellet was set off for tripping, leaving the Canadiens with two less minutes to work with although they killed that one off as well.
After the penalties were done with, Montreal continued to push for that goal they so desperately needed. However, Philadelphia clogged up the neutral zone for most of the remainder of the period, making it very difficult for the Canadiens to enter the zone.
Price was pulled with two minutes left, and the Habs called their timeout with 1:30 to go. Much like Game 1, every bounce and break went the Flyers way as Montreal couldn’t muster up the equalizer as the game ended 1-0. Despite being the better team in all three games, the Habs left the ice trailing in the series.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Despite the loss, this may have been the best game of Kotkaniemi’s career so far. His shot was lethal, beating Hart three times but just catching the post. He was also a strong physical presence. In the third period, the Montreal offence was run through him. There is arguably no player in the NHL that has benefited more from the restart than Jesperi.
Stats: 1 SOG, 2 hits, 19:32 TOI
Second Star – Nick Suzuki
The future at centre ice is looking brighter and brighter with Suzuki also being one of Montreal’s most important forwards. He generated scoring chances all night long, also hitting a couple posts himself. He was also a cornerstone of the Canadiens’ perfect penalty kill that kept them in it.
Stats: 2 SOG, 1 hit, 17:40 TOI
Third Star- Jonathan Drouin
Stats: 2 SOG, 1 hit, 17:00 TOI
Honorable Mention- Max Domi
Stats: 2 SOG, 1 hit, 17:55 TOI
Drouin and Domi were both using their speed to effectively give options to Kotkaniemi on offence. They were the Habs’ best line tonight, but some bad luck and a few solid saves did not allow them to find the scoresheet and help the Habs win this game.