(Philadelphia, PA) – Danny Briere’s power play goal broke a tie game late in regulation, and keyed a 4-2 Flyers victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday night. With the win, Philadelphia leads the Eastern Conference Semifinal series three games to one, and can close it out on Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).
The Flyers surrendered a two-goal lead in the third period, but went on the man advantage when Steve Begin was sent off for interference. Briere deposited a loose puck after Vaclav Prospal’s shot from the top of the circle rattled around in front for his eighth of the playoffs, tying him for the league lead in that category.
R.J. Umberger scored his second goal of the night, and seventh of the playoffs, with the Montreal net vacant to seal the crucial win in the closing seconds.
While Philadelphia has surrendered several leads throughout the series, the Flyers have also managed to either come through in clutch situations or hold off furious last minute charges by their opponents throughout the playoffs so far. In doing so, they are just one win away from their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2004.
“We have to go there and find a way to get it done,” said Briere after the game, already looking towards Game 5. “We know what happened in the first round, we were up three to one, and we let [Washington] back in. This is far from over, we have to realize that. I know they are not going to quit.”
The Flyers scored the lone goal through the first 53 minutes of play courtesy of Umberger. On a Philadelphia power play, Umberger fired in a cross-ice pass from Briere at 7:47 of the second period.
The goal began after Montreal applied some pressure while shorthanded, but Martin Biron stopped a shot from the slot by Begin moments before the rush in the opposite direction.
In the third period, Philadelphia increased it to 2-0 for the fourth straight game when Prospal rang one off the crossbar, but Scott Hartnell was there to whack in the rebound for his second of the playoffs.
As has been commonplace in the playoffs so far, though, the win did not come easy for the Flyers despite the late lead. Tomas Plekanac tipped in a Josh Gorges wrist shot after the puck hit Derian Hatcher’s skate at 12:59, and just 37 seconds later, Saku Koivu slid in a loose puck that was bouncing in front of the crease.
Biron had his number called several times in the first period on quality chances by Montreal, but stopped all 14 shots he saw. The Canadiens had two power plays in the opening frame, on a curious boarding call to Mike Richards and a roughing penalty to Lasse Kukkonen.
Biron knocked away a tip-in attempt by Plekanac on the first man advantage and gloved a wrist shot by Andrei Markov on the second.
Jeff Carter had a chance to put the Flyers ahead on a shorthanded breakaway six minutes into the game, but Jaroslav Halak got his pad on Carter’s backhand attempt.
The Flyers killed off all four power plays of Montreal, while going 2-of-4 themselves.
“It’s been our saving grace right now, Marty in net and our PK,” said Umberger. “They have such a great power play, they tic-tac-toe it around, and they still got some goals, but we aren’t letting them overtake us. We are staying in it.”
Umberger, who has constantly been moved from line to line throughout the playoffs, earned praise from his coach after the game.
“R.J. has been terrific and deserves a lot of credit,” said Stevens. “He’s a man without a home, really. I move him all over the place and I do it for the good of the team. That’s what makes him so valuable.”
Biron finished the night with 36 saves, as his team was once again outshot, 38-26. He seems to be feeding off of the home crowds as much as anyone, which have serenaded him with chants of “Mar-ty, Mar-ty!” after every big save.
“It is awesome. You feel like you have 20,000 people behind you,” he said. “It is a great feeling. Throughout the whole game, when the game is tight or when the game can go one way or the other, it is great to have the fans behind you.”
“Ever since the playoffs started he has taken it to another level,” added Mike Knuble. “It has been an absolute treat to watch. I do not know if it is the new baby or what, but he has been extremely hot.”
Halak was making his first career playoff start in favor of Carey Price, who had been in net for Montreal the entire playoff run until getting pulled in Game 3 after the second period when he allowed three goals on 12 shots. Halak spent most of the season with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, but joined the big club when Cristobal Huet was traded to Washington at the NHL’s trade deadline.
The game also marked the return of the Knuble, who had missed the last five games with a hamstring injury.
Prospal finished with two assists. … The Flyers are 16-2 in their history when leading a series 3-1, while Montreal has lost 12 of 13 in its storied past. … Steve Downie was scratched to make room for Knuble. … Should they advance, the Flyers will become the second team in the history of the NHL and first in more than 20 years to make it to the Conference Finals when finishing with the worst record the previous season (Detroit, 1987).