Flyers Grind Out Tight Series Win Over Canadiens

Every goal the Philadelphia Flyers scored in Game 6 of their first-round series Friday night went off a member of the Montreal Canadiens and into the net. That’s the kind of series it’s been — with random bounces looming large in the outcome — and the Flyers won 3-2 to eliminate the Canadiens and move on to the second round.

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Winning this series was anything but easy. The Canadiens hung around in every game, sometimes thanks to strong goaltending, sometimes thanks to pesky young forwards who kept finding the back of the net. Three of the Flyers’ wins were by one goal and the other was by two. Montreal found a way to compete in tight-checking games with little scoring, and on nights where the goals flowed freely. They outscored Philadelphia 13-11 in the series. Rookie centre Nick Suzuki scored three of them in the final two games.

Nick Suzuki Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But it’s the Flyers moving on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they’ll face the seventh-seeded New York Islanders. The Isles surprised many in knocking off the Washington Capitals in five games. That series gets underway Monday night.

Puck Kept Bouncing in Flyers’ Favor

No other sport has the kind of fluky variables you see in hockey, where the puck can carom any number of ways off the ice and the boards. In the Flyers-Canadiens series, quite a number of these bounces played a role in big plays. Coaches like to talk about puck luck, and sometimes they’re full of it, but the puck did some funny things in this series.

Only 28 seconds into Game 6, Ivan Provorov’s point shot went through Shea Weber’s legs, hitting him in the process, and deflected past Carey Price. The goal was initially credited to Travis Konecny in front of the net, but the league determined it never touched his stick. About five minutes later, Kevin Hayes manufactured his own luck, waiting Price out and slipping the puck off his inside pad and in.

Philadelphia’s third goal, credited to Michael Raffl in the second period, appeared to hit some combination of Price and Ben Chiarot in the crease and trickled in. That was only the Flyers’ seventh shot of the game, and they were ultimately outshot 33-17 on the night.

Chiarot was no stranger to having pucks go off him, either. In Game 5, two shots by Jakub Voracek just four minutes apart both deflected off Chiarot and in. In fact, Voracek scored two goals earlier in the series that were redirected off his legs. In Game 3, Montreal pounded about half a dozen shots off the crossbar and posts. In Game 4, the Flyers’ second goal by Philippe Myers skipped off the ice and away from Price.

Team Effort, But Consistency Missing

But it would be wrong to suggest the Flyers didn’t deserve this series victory. Carter Hart earned back-to-back shutouts in Games 3 and 4, with Philly’s young defense corps proving they can get the job done in their own end. They allowed just three goals in their four wins. Two of them came in Game 6 with Matt Niskanen serving a suspension for his cross-check to Brendan Gallagher’s jaw. The Flyers’ blue line also scored two goals in the series.

Philadelphia never scored more than three goals in a game against Montreal, with Price, Shea Weber and company making it difficult to create offense. Of the goals they did score, zero came from Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier or Konecny. Voracek finished the series with four markers, and Raffl and Joel Farabee had two each. That’s more than 70 percent of the Flyers’ goals coming from those three.

Joel Farabee Philadelphia Flyers
Joel Farabee, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Habs are a plucky bunch, but the Islanders will provide a stiffer test — the Flyers need their top guns to produce. It’s as simple as that. Giroux, Couturier and Konecny were all engaged in the offensive zone — it’s not as though their drought is for lack of effort — but they need to do what they do and score some goals.

That also goes for James van Riemsdyk, who was a healthy scratch for Games 4 and 5 and had zero points in the series. You cannot afford to have a $7 million man so ineffective he’s in the press box. Alain Vigneault certainly has plenty of options up front, and it’s up to him to find a fit for van Riemsdyk in the lineup. But mostly, it’s up to him to perform.

Up and Down Series for Carter Hart

Another area where the Flyers need more consistency is in net. Hart was excellent in the round robin and in Games 1, 3 and 4 against Montreal. But he struggled greatly in the two losses, giving up four goals in Game 2 before getting the hook and four more in Game 5. Vigneault was ready to pull him again in the fifth game after Suzuki appeared to score the Canadiens’ fourth of the night, but the play was ruled offside and Hart was left in. The 22-year-old owned an ugly .862 save percentage in those two games.

Philadelphia Flyers Carter Hart
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Hart seemed to get rattled if he gave up a couple of quick goals, and twice in the series the Canadiens put one past him immediately after a Flyers goal. Hart is usually very poised and composed in the crease, though, and he’ll need to be on top form for Game 1 Monday night. Winning the goaltending battle against Price should boost his confidence.

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Vigneault made a number of line changes as the series went on, and it’ll be interesting to see who he rolls out together to start the New York series. The Flyers were winless against the Islanders in the regular season, so they’ll need all hands on deck.