Before Game 2, Montreal Canadiens’ head coach Claude Julien left the bubble when he was taken by ambulance to hospital for chest pains. His team later stepped up their game and provided a dominating performance for a 5-0 victory that was played with authority, and won for Claude.
Game 3 had a similar event to help a team rally around an event. This time, the event was the return of Philadelphia Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom to the ice with his teammates. Like the Canadiens, the Flyers used this event as a rallying cry and provided an excellent effort to fuel their 1-0 shutout win.
Kirk Muller took over the head coaching duties with Julien out indefinitely, providing many in-game adjustments that kept the Flyers on their heels for 60 minutes. Game 3 began with another adjustment, Jake Evans was circled as part of the starting lineup to play defence. Kidding, his No. 71 was circled accidentally instead of Brett Kulak’s No. 77. That was fixed just prior to puck drop.
Perhaps that small error was foreshadowing the game for the Habs, a game filled with many little errors that kept them off the scoreboard. In Game 3, Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault adjusted his lineup, bringing in Michael Raffl and Robert Hagg, looking for a response to the Canadiens physical game. Surprisingly, the Habs had out-hit the Flyers in the first two games of the series.
Another adjustment seen was Vignault getting his penalty killers to give no time or space in zone entries when short a man. He must have finally gotten around to watching video of the anemic Habs power-play unit, as that one adjustment kept the Habs PP off the board. The largest adjustment was to take advantage of the more physical play to clog the neutral zone, take the body and force the Canadiens mostly to the outside as well as keeping the crease clear of any red jerseys. This made Carter Hart’s job easier.
The Habs won the Corsi-for possession game at 56.96 percent but the adjustments made defensively by Vigneault to focus on using the large Flyers defense to keep the smaller Habs forwards to the perimeter paid off as there was no flow to their game.
A double minor for high sticking.
A “pick play” for an interference call.
Habs fans can complain that the loss was because of the officiating. They can call them weak calls, but they’re in the rule book. The players can’t give the officials the choice to make the difference. Despite the added work from bad penalties, the Canadiens penalty killers did a great job killing off the penalties, however, it took away from any flow the Canadiens’ had been building.
The Flyers game plan seemed to be to generate many stoppages, keep the game along the boards, and grind behind the net. This cut off any momentum the Canadiens had been building. With the Flyers setting the pace of the game to be a slower, grinding affair, the Habs got frustrated. They made poor choices.
Max Domi playing a puck on a delayed offside, despite being told not to, was the reason the faceoff was sent all the way back to the defensive zone. This undisciplined play opened the door for the Flyers to create a scoring chance, one that Shea Weber had to get in Jakub Voracek’s way, cutting off the pass and then clearing it before he could get his shot into an open net.
Another poor Domi decision hurt the Canadiens midway in the third, as he slashed Flyers center Kevin Hayes at the blue line on a Flyers zone entry. What made it more damaging to the momentum that was building for the Habs was that Philadelphia had no pressure building on that play.
Like Carey Price, Hart is cerebral and athletic. He will also stop everything he sees. That is why it’s so important to get some forwards at the top of the crease. It’s something the Habs did poorly – they were unable to get any traffic to the net with any regularity. This made Hart’s job just a little easier.
The only dangerous chances had by the Canadiens were from the handful of times their forwards were in the slot or generated traffic by getting to the top of the crease. Hart’s shutout comes more from a lack of adjustments from the Habs than it does Hart making the big saves. But full marks to Hart for making them all, because it isn’t his fault there weren’t more, or any harder ones to face.
The Flyers gameplan to suck all emotions and life from the game was well thought-out. It bled the Habs of any momentum shifts they may have been able to build otherwise. This was a situation where Montreal could have benefited from their raucous home crowd, as the fans in the Bell Centre would have been able to get loud and no doubt would affect the Canadiens’ adrenaline.
The difference in this game very well could be the goalposts, as the Canadiens rang the puck off a post five times in Game 3. With the Flyers now holding a 2-1 series lead, the momentum is back in their favor, but hockey fans are seeing this series will go longer than many expected.
I have been a writer covering the NHL and the Montreal Canadiens for over 6 years. I am also currently a 27+ year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces