MONTREAL (AP)—The Philadelphia Flyers believe they need to get skating against the Montreal Canadiens, who also feel like they can take their game up a notch after catching the final breaks to win the opener of their second-round series.
Philadelphia blew 2-0 and 3-2 leads Thursday night as Montreal got a power-play goal from Alex Kovalev late in the third with Canadiens goalie Carey Price pulled for an extra attacker before Tom Kostopoulos scored the winner 48 seconds into overtime.
Flyers coach John Stevens chose to cancel practice Friday after his team played its third game in four nights in a third different city the night before.
Despite the disheartening loss, Stevens is confident that his players have learned a lot during the regular season and so far in the playoffs about fighting through adversity.
“Probably the pivotal time for us was going into that last nine games of the year when we needed points against the Atlantic Division, and obviously in the first round when we had the lead lost and had the ability to come back and win Game 7 on the road,” Stevens said.
Center Daniel Briere said that he and his teammates need to bring up their tempo Saturday night in Game 2.
“I don’t think we skated as well as we did in the Washington series,” Briere said. “We did in stretches but not consistently enough (Thursday) night to get us the win and that’s one area we have to improve and get our legs moving instead of trying to make plays standing still.”
Thursday’s loss was the third time in eight playoff games so far that Philadelphia has blown a two-goal lead and gone on to lose the game. The Flyers also lost Games 1 and 6 in their first-round series against the Capitals after they led by two.
While he was clearly unhappy with the latest result, Stevens didn’t see a common thread or tend between the three losses.
“I think they’re all different,” Stevens said. “I don’t think there are any tendencies in the three games where we lost the lead but obviously you get the lead at any time, you want to keep it.”
The Canadiens held an optional afternoon practice at the Bell Centre.
Montreal’s checking line of Kostopoulos, Bryan Smolinski and Steve Begin took part in the practice. The trio has remained intact throughout the first eight games of the playoffs, contributing timely and opportunistic offense along the way.
Kostopoulos, who put his own rebound past Martin Biron for the overtime winner, explained the line’s chemistry by pointing out that none of the three is the type of player that “can walk through a few guys and score a pretty goal.”
“When we score it feels like all three of us are scoring,” Kostopoulos said. “It’s almost like a unit scoring rather than just one of us so we take pride in scoring goals that way.”
The threesome are proud of the fact that they have proved to be a reliable unit for coach Guy Carbonneau.
“If we can be used at any time of the game it’s a tribute to us and a tribute to the players that I play with,” Smolinski said. “If we can keep working hard, we can get that same trust every night.”
From his perspective, Stevens has particular respect for Montreal’s transition game. The Flyers coach felt that his players squandered puck control opportunities in the second period as the Canadiens scored twice to tie it at 2.
“I think their defense makes such a good first pass that if you don’t manage the puck you’re going to give up too many opportunities the other way,” Stevens said.
Both teams acknowledged the difficulty of following up the intensity of Game 7s earlier in the week.
Thursday’s 4-3 Montreal win came down to the Canadiens catching the final breaks in a game full of odd goals and strange plays.
The Flyers turned the page on a disputed video review of whether or not Kovalev’s first goal was a high stick, and a kneeing penalty against Mike Richards with 1:09 left in the third after his the Philadelphia center’s open-ice collision with Kovalev.
“It’s disappointing but it’s one game,” Stevens said. “I think we’ve convinced ourselves that when we’re skating and we’re playing the game that we can play with anybody and that’s no different now so I think both teams were feeling their way in that first game. I would expect both teams to play better and we’re certainly expecting ourselves to play better.”