Flyers 5: Takeaways from Game 3 of Flyers-Canadiens
In Game 2, the Montreal Canadiens made it clear to the Flyers that there was no time to feel comfortable in the playoffs. When you make it to this point, there are a lot of plays and games that don’t look pretty, but they all count the same as part of the journey.
Alain Vigneault knew that much, noting that it takes four wins in a playoff series, noting that Game 2, a 5-0 drubbing, was just one game.
But this one doesn’t feel like the average game. It was very much going to be a turning point in the series. If the Flyers not only struggled, but failed to come out on top, Montreal will have truly taken all momentum, and it’s certainly difficult to get it back in this environment. But if the Flyers could get back to the win column and take the series lead, the awful Game 2 loss becomes more of a one-off than anything.
The Flyers were 6-0 in games following a loss in the second half of the regular season. They can add a playoff win to that total.
Here are 5 takeaways from the Flyers 1-0 win over the Canadiens in Game 3.
1. Hart Spoils the Party
Carter Hart turned 22 three days ago, and celebrated as much with his first win in a playoff series the day before his birthday. The day after his birthday was his worst moment to date in the playoffs. Sunday was his boyhood idol’s 33rd birthday.
On Friday, Carey Price picked up his seventh career playoff shutout. On Price’s birthday, he saw one of the NHL’s up-and-coming goalies get his first playoff shutout.
Hart certainly had some help in the game from his defensemen - more on that later - and the posts. Montreal hit four posts in the game, including two on consecutive shot attempts. Sometimes, your best friend in goal is the post, and Hart had plenty of help.
But he also came up with some big saves in big moments. Twice, Scott Laughton turned the puck over point blank. Hart stopped Brendan Gallagher on one of those attempts, then stoned Jonathan Drouin on a brief breakaway for the other. In the final minute of the game, Ivan Provorov had a puck bounce over his stick and go right to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, forming a mini 2-on-0 in front of the net. Hart made the save on Kotkaniemi as well.
In total, Hart had 23 saves in the shutout win, and became the youngest Flyers goalie at 22 years and three days to record a shutout. Perhaps more important than the actual result is the resiliency he shows in goal.
Even if the goals allowed in Game 2 weren’t shouldered solely by him, he did allow four and it inflated the numbers he was putting up in the playoffs so far. It wasn’t nearly as busy a night for Hart, but when the toughest chances came his way, he came up huge.
2. Greasy Goal Wins Game
If there is a formula to beat Carey Price, it’s traffic to the net and shot volume. Getting in Price’s face and taking his eyes will only help you either get the puck by him or create a rare rebound. Shot volume may allow you to get a leaky goal.
The Flyers certainly didn’t have the shot volume in Game 3 - just 20 total shots - but they did get traffic to the net for their only goal of the game.
Claude Giroux fired a turnaround shot that hit off of Jake Voracek and went into the net. It was as greasy a goal as you’ll see and that was the only goal needed in this one.
The Flyers weren’t able to do this much, especially as the game went on, but they were able to get traffic to the net to create a goal.
The Flyers still have just three goals over three games in the playoffs, and it’s nowhere near enough of a contribution from the offense that outscored the other Top 3 teams in the East, 11-3, in Round Robin, but a goal by the Flyers top line put them in the driver’s seat for this game. They were able to play in front from there, and that allowed the defensive play to take over.
3. Blocked Shots
A shutout win often times puts the focus on the goaltender, and Hart certainly was excellent in the win, but this was as close to a team shutout as it gets. Hart made 23 saves. The Flyers blocked 24 shots. Matt Niskanen had six. Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim each had three. Nicolas Aube-Kubel had a pair of blocked shots that both left him wincing in pain.
But that's playoff hockey and part of the dirty and greasy nature of it. It's seldom pretty and it's not going to be comfortable, but the players who do the dirty work are often the ones who see the most praise in deep playoff runs.
This was part of the Flyers blueprint to winning games. Sure, they would outscore teams much greater than this. Sure, they would put together much more in terms of puck possession and zone time. And yes, neither of those things were prominent in this game. But they go out of their way to play well in front of their goaltender, to keep the chances in front of the net to a minimum. In the third period specifically, they did an excellent job of that.
4. Power Play Struggles Again
This area of the Flyers game is becoming a huge concern right now. The Flyers scored on their first power play of the series in Game 1, then let two other opportunities get away from them. In Game 2, even with the 5-0 drubbing, they were 0-for-5 and had a lengthy 5-on-3 that could have changed the game while they were down 3-0.
In Sunday’s game, it was another 0-for-6 night, including letting a four-minute power play early in the game get away.
There is a method to some of the madness. Montreal is doing a really excellent job on the penalty kill. They have one forward applying pressure in the offensive zone and another who lingers back in the neutral zone. These two players applying the pressure as the puck is moved up ice. If you can somehow get through that, the two defensemen stand up at the blue line and take away that space. It leaves you with limited options and the Flyers have resorted to the dump and chase option a lot.
This is a perfect scenario for the Canadiens, because they don’t care if Price plays the puck. He essentially acts like a third defenseman, just moving the puck to the next guy, allowing the cycle to continue and leading to another clear.
It’s a good way to prevent the Flyers from doing much of anything on the power play. But the real glaring problem isn’t that Montreal has a formula to shut it down. It’s that in games where you get five or six power plays, a 5-on-3 that lasts for more than 90 seconds, a four-minute power play, there are bound to be more lapses from the penalty kill from the sheer exhaustion that comes from being shorthanded for that long.
That’s where the Flyers execution being off affects their power play. They want to connect on cross-ice passes. They want to set up one-timers. They want to cycle the puck and get that back-door, slam dunk goal. And against this team, they can’t.
After three games of this, it’s time for some adjustments to the method, the personnel or both, before this ends up costing them games or potentially the series.
5. Bounce Back Effort
When the Flyers were beaten down in a 5-0 loss in Game 2, there was a lot of talk that the team would bounce back. But the effort needed to be there.
Things were far from perfect in this game. The offense still needs work. The power play was powerless. There were still careless turnovers with the puck and Montreal had their share of offensive-zone time.
But you also got the effort. This was a game that is hard-working in nature. Space is limited. Opportunities are few and far between. One goal can change the tide. You need everyone to deliver that kind of effort. It’s seen in blocking shots. It’s seen in getting involved in the physical game. It’s seen in winning puck battles.
In total, the Canadiens had 61 shot attempts and only four high-danger scoring chances in the game. That’s a massive improvement from Game 2 where not only did the Canadiens have a lot of zone time, but Grade A chances galore.
The Flyers did those things and again escaped with a one-goal victory. By now, we know what to expect in this series. Montreal is going to play a tight-checking style and the Flyers aren’t going to be allowed many offensive opportunities that are created by speed or are high risk. They are going to have to play that grind-it-out style that won last Wednesday and again on Sunday night. Now comes another big swing game for the Flyers where they can take a commanding lead in the series on Tuesday afternoon.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.