Flyers rout Canadiens in East finals opener

Preview | Box Score | Recap | Series Breakdown

PHILADELPHIA (AP)—The Philadelphia Flyers are about to find out what it’s like to play from in front. It’s been a while since the NHL’s comeback kids have been the ones being chased.

Fresh off a stirring Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins that capped a rally from three games down, the Flyers scored early against Jaroslav Halak(notes) and the Montreal Canadiens and rolled to a 6-0 win in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday night.

Michael Leighton(notes) was strong in a slow-starting first period for the Flyers and finished with 28 saves in his first NHL playoff shutout. James van Riemsdyk(notes), Danny Briere(notes) and Simon Gagne(notes) scored in a span of 9:23 in the second to turn it into a rout.

“It makes it a little bit easier when we score that many,” Leighton said. “In the second period, we played really well. We got a few goals and that kind of calmed me down and I think it calmed the team down. It took a lot of pressure off us.”

There would be no comeback necessary for the surging Flyers, who rebounded from a 3-0 series hole against the Bruins and a three-goal deficit in Game 7 in Boston on Friday night. Philadelphia has won five straight overall and is 5-1 in the playoffs in front of its orange-clad crowd.

Game 2 of the NHL’s first final four matchup between a No. 7 and No. 8 seed will be Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

“We know they’re going to come back a lot better, a lot stronger in the next game,” Briere said. “The goal was to keep home-ice advantage—win the two games. We’re just halfway there.”

Halak was easily outplayed by Leighton, unbeaten since replacing the injured Brian Boucher(notes) in Game 5 of Philadelphia’s win over Boston.

Montreal is been adept at coming from behind, too, in these playoffs. The Canadiens erased a 3-1 series deficit in the first round, and were down 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 in the second.

“We have to analyze the game, no doubt,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. “The special teams play needs to be better. It was our overall game that made us successful the first and second round and we didn’t compete the way we needed to win.”

The seventh-seeded Flyers were stunned to have home-ice advantage for the first time since the second round in 2004, and quickly made the most of it. Philadelphia also took a 1-0 lead in the opening round against New Jersey before finishing that series in five games.

“It’s more fun playing with the lead—winning games,” Briere said, “but you have to deal with whatever is in front of you. The goal was to start with a win.”

Defenseman Braydon Coburn(notes) scored his first NHL playoff goal during a first-period power play, van Riemsdyk pushed the lead to 2-0 just 30 seconds into the middle frame, and Briere and Gagne—on another power play—beat Halak 5:30 apart to finish the spurt.

Scott Hartnell(notes) and Claude Giroux(notes) added third-period goals against Carey Price(notes).

Leighton will take a shutout streak of 105 minutes, 50 seconds into Game 2. Not bad for a guy who sat out because of an ankle injury from March 16 until May 10.

He has allowed only four goals on 98 shots in four games since taking over for Boucher, who is likely out for the postseason with a knee injury.

Halak, the biggest factor in the eighth-seeded Canadiens’ upsets of top-seeded Washington and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, was gone 9:53 into the second after facing only 14 shots. He entered this series with an NHL-best .933 save percentage in the playoffs.

“That’s the last guy you pin it on,” Canadiens forward Scott Gomez(notes) said. “We’re here because of him.”

The Canadiens endured chants of “USA! USA!” and heard mocking recitals of the familiar “Ole, Ole, Ole” song that often resonates at home.

The Flyers insisted there would be no emotional or physical carry-over from their stunning win over Boston on Friday, and then they proved it.

Philadelphia had only one day off after eliminating Boston. Instead of looking weary after becoming the third NHL team to win a series it trailed 3-0, the Flyers were revved up.

The Canadiens helped the cause by taking a series of uncharacteristic undisciplined penalties—three of which directly led to goals.

“We had confidence, but we started out slow,” Flyers captain Mike Richards(notes) said. “As the game went on, I thought we got better. Our power play was clicking and that ultimately got us the victory.”

Coburn started the scoring when he put in a rebound of Ville Leino’s(notes) shot that bounced around in front of Halak while Gomez served a roughing penalty.

“We didn’t come out as well as we wanted to,” Briere said. “Michael was ready right from the start. If it wasn’t for him, it could’ve been a different story.”

The tide turned in the second period when Giroux cleanly won an offensive zone faceoff from Gomez, and nudged the puck toward Halak. Van Riemsdyk took two whacks at it and knocked it in.

Just a second after Maxim Lapierre’s(notes) penalty ended, Briere slapped a shot from the top of the right circle for his team-best eighth of the playoffs. Gagne, who has five goals and six points in five games since returning from a toe injury, made it 4-0 during another power play and ended Halak’s night.

“It definitely leaves a bitter taste in your mouth,” Price said. “When you have to come back from a performance like that, it definitely motivates you.”

NOTES: It was Coburn’s first goal in 60 games, dating to Dec. 21 against Florida. … Montreal has won three of the previous five playoffs series against Philadelphia. … Price was 0-1 with a 3.44 GAA in three previous playoff appearances this year. He hadn’t played since Game 1 of the second round against Pittsburgh.

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