Claude Julien must have been smiling from ear to ear at home in Montreal and brimming with pride when the horn sounded to end a superb performance by his Canadiens which resulted in a 5-0 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers to even their first-round playoff series at 1-1.
Recovering from the stenting of a coronary artery after being rushed to hospital with chest pains on Tuesday night, Julien watched his team, led by Kirk Muller, put forth an inspired effort in his honor. Muller dedicated his first playoff victory as a head coach to the man he is replacing:
“For Claude, I’m sure he’s listening, this win’s for you and your family.”
Dominant From Start to Finish
The Canadiens got off to a flying start in Game 2 and never looked back. They skated circles around their opponents for 60 minutes, dominating every aspect of the contest, and the Flyers had no answers. Philadelphia registered their first shot on goal over 16 minutes into the first period while Montreal scored two goals in that span, essentially putting the game out of reach before the Flyers even knew what hit them.
The Habs used their blistering speed, delivered big hits and didn’t let a possession team like the Flyers have the puck. It was certainly a recipe for success that led to Montreal’s most impressive showing in a long time.
“We for sure wanted to win for both [Julien and Muller],” Jonathan Drouin said. “When you look at the energy we started the game with on the bench and on the ice, it was incredible. It was a start that led to the first two goals and we just built on it. The way we were skating, the way we were on the puck, it was impressive. It was one of our best games.”
Muller Shuffles the Deck
Muller made several lineup changes that ignited his team and brought out the best in his top players who needed the boost. Dale Weise was scratched in favor of Jake Evans, while Max Domi was moved up from the fourth line to the second trio alongside Drouin and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Joel Armia anchored the fourth line with Evans and Alex Belzile. The impact of these adjustments speaks for itself.
Tomas Tatar, the Canadiens’ leading scorer in the regular season, finally scored his first two goals in the postseason and Domi notched his first three points of the playoffs with three assists. Even defenseman Victor Mete put up two points on the scoresheet thanks to some time on the power play while Armia and the fourth line also contributed a goal.
“It was more of a gut (decision),” Muller said of his line shuffling. “We have a lot of respect for our opponent right now and just before it started it was kind of just a gut feeling to change things around, and it either works or it doesn’t. We asked some guys to step up and in order to do that you’ve got to get them into the game early and see if they respond. And a lot of guys did tonight, so it made it easy for me.”
Kotkaniemi, Price and Weber Star Again
Habs’ goaltender Carey Price did his part in the victory too, making 30 saves to earn his second shutout of the postseason. He now boasts a .953 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-against average in six playoff games this year. It was the seventh NHL playoff shutout of Price’s career which ties him for third in Montreal history behind Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden, who each had 10.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi added a pair of markers, improving his team-leading goal count to four. He and his linemates, Domi and Drouin, combined for six points in the game. Kotkaniemi scored just six goals in 36 games with the Canadiens in the regular season before being sent to the Laval Rocket in the AHL.
“He’s faster, stronger and his play has shown it. He took it and learned from it,” Muller said of Kotkaniemi’s demotion. “He’s gotten to be a better player and he’s had a real big impact on our team since we got to Toronto.”
Meanwhile, Montreal captain Shea Weber showed no signs of slowing down on his 35th birthday and put in another stellar performance, logging more than 25 minutes of ice time, and finishing the game with a plus-2 rating.
It’s only one win and the Flyers are sure to bounce back with a vengeance in Game 3, but what an important victory it was for Kirk Muller and for a Canadiens team that needed some good vibes after a difficult 48 hours.