PHILADELPHIA – Game 3 was played Monday night, and neither team can feel very good about their performance. The Flyers, however, aren't going to throw back their 3-2 victory. And they're not the least bit disappointed they further rattled Montreal's 20-year-old goalie Carey Price.
But you have to wonder if Philadelphia can keep playing like this and expect to win the series. And you have to wonder if Montreal can keep playing like this and expect to win the series.
Sound confusing? It's really quite simple.
The Flyers can't match the Canadiens' speed, yet they have forged a 2-1 lead in the series. What they can do is out-hit, out-work and eventually frustrate Montreal, but Philadelphia has to skate the fine line here and execute the game plan in a disciplined manner.
The Canadiens can win what shapes up to be a long best-of-seven second-round series by sticking to the plan, not getting sidetracked, not getting drawn into the Flyers' physical game.
What it feels like after three games, however, is the team that abandons its style first is going to lose the series.
"We've played well for two games now, and we've got to keep doing this," Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said. "Because if we can keep playing, and give 14 shots and shoot 30 times, we'll find ways to win."
The funny thing about this series is Philadelphia outplayed Montreal in Game 1 and lost. And the Canadiens have outplayed the Flyers during the past two contests and have lost both. Sometime soon, and probably starting with Wednesday night's Game 4, the team that plays best is actually going to emerge victorious and set the standard for the remainder of the series.
If that team is the hosts, then the Flyers are going to have to limit their time in the penalty box because Montreal's power play is a ticking time bomb. Leading by three goals early in the third period when the mindset should have been play hard, but smart, Philadelphia's Derian Hatcher committed a major boo-boo.
The veteran defenseman hit Montreal defenseman Francis Bouillon hard against the glass behind the Flyers' net, an action that resulted in a major penalty for boarding accompanied with a game-misconduct.
It was a borderline call. Hatcher, who plays on the edge, caught a player who isn't used to being in that position on the offensive end in a vulnerable position. It wasn't the kind of hit needed to separate player from puck, because the biscuit was already gone. It wasn't the time or place to be sending a message, either. So hockey sense says Hatcher follows through with a check in normal fashion and doesn't need to add anything extra.
"I played with Hatcher, I know he's intense and he likes to hit," Carbonneau said of his ex-teammate in Dallas. "But I felt Bouillon had his back turned already and he kept going with it (the hit). I think it was the right call, but we'll wait and see what the league decides to do."
The league is not going to suspend Hatcher. That's gamesmanship on Carbonneau's side. But even giving the officials an opportunity to make that kind of call 5:17 into the final period of a one-sided hockey game isn't going to win out in the long run.
"There's a lot of frustration with how the game was reffed," Flyers forward Daniel Briere said. "I like the way we battled and fought through all the adversity that was thrown at us."
Sure enough, Montreal, the team with the best power play during the regular season, scored twice in the span of 72 seconds midway through the major, and still had 1:36 of a 5-on-4 advantage to tie it in addition to the remainder of the period.
Thanks to the stingy goaltending of Philadelphia's Martin Biron, and the remaining five defensemen scrambling to clear rebounds and bodies in front, the Flyers survived.
"I think we did an excellent job when you look at the situations we were in, having to kill so many penalties," Briere said. "Giving up just two goals while being short-handed for almost half the game is pretty amazing. Kudos to Marty and our kill."
Playing half the game short-handed was an exaggeration. The Flyers were two minutes shy of playing even a quarter of the game at a disadvantage. But really, who do they have to blame? They're lucky Mike Richards wasn't called for a minor when during a fly-by in front of the Montreal goal during an aborted forecheck late in the third he inexplicably connected with a short jab to the mask of Canadiens backup goalie Jaroslav Halak.
As it was, the hosts had to kill another late-game advantage after Lasse Kukkonen took a less-than-stellar interference penalty at 14:01.
"I don't think we're getting away with it," Briere said. "No we can't, we have to be more disciplined."
This was Montreal's game in the first period. The Canadiens carried the play, literally and figuratively. The visitors possessed the puck the majority of the time, drove hard, forechecked, cycled, drew five minors and hit three posts in addition to outshooting the hosts 8-5. The Flyers were simply content to chip pucks out of their zone and to dump ineffectively into the Montreal end.
Scoreless at the intermission, the teams came out in the second like it was playoff overtime, both conservative and guarded. It played into Philadelphia's hand. The Flyers managed three goals – two at even strength and one short-handed – as the rookie Price struggled in facing only five shots in the period.
Scottie Upshall scored on the Flyers' first shot of the period that didn't come until 7:04. Richards scored unassisted while killing a penalty at 15:12 and R.J. Umberger scored at 18:19. All three were stoppable shots.
Carbonneau chose to wait until the start of the third period to make a goaltending switch, realizing the last thing Price needed was a hearty razzing from the Philadelphia faithful that a mid-game hook would have earned.
"You know, he's 20 years old, you can't forget about that," Carbonneau said. "We're trying to ask this kid to be a savior for our club.
"But, again, we had a 5-on-3 for two minutes, we had five of our best players on the ice and maybe we should blame them also."
The onus on Wednesday night is not just for Price to redeem himself, but for both teams to execute the way they know they can.
The first one that figures it out will have the upper hand.
"I think we can be better," Briere said.
"We're not happy, we're frustrated a little bit, but we'll find ways. We've just got to keep going," Carbonneau said. "The last half of the game they couldn't stay up with us. It's going to be a long series."