PHILADELPHIA -- After becoming just the third team in NHL history to rally from a three-games-to-none deficit to win a best-of-7 series, the Philadelphia Flyers wanted to make sure they didn’t have to repeat that incredible feat in the Eastern Conference Final.
So 48 hours after a high-wire escape in Boston to keep their pursuit of the Stanley Cup alive, the Flyers took advantage of a pair of power-play goals against the undisciplined Montreal Canadiens to march to a 6-0 victory in Sunday’s Game 1 at the Wachovia Center. They also scored a third goal just a second after a power play expired.
Game 2 of this historic best-of-7 series is Tuesday night. Philadelphia is the first No. 7 seed to host a third-round series in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Montreal, the No. 8 seed, only needed to knock off the top-seeded Washington Capitals and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins -- each in seven games -- to book this date.
In the span of a week, the Flyers went from surely eliminated to hosting this Eastern Conference Final, thanks to a comeback for the ages. On the brink of elimination, Philadelphia won four-straight games from Boston, including Friday’s monumental rally for a 3-0 deficit in the first period.
There was no such drama Sunday night as a sold-out Wachovia Center welcomed home the conquering Flyers, who treated the fans to one of their most dominating 60-minute performances to date in what has been an incredible run.
Now, the Flyers -- who booked their postseason passage with a shootout victory on the final day of the regular season -- are just three wins away from the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final since 1997.
Philadelphia did most of its damage on the power play as Montreal took several unnecessary penalties, a trait that never surfaced in its seven-game ouster of Pittsburgh.
That was more than enough of a cushion for Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton, who was making just his third-ever playoff start. Leighton replaced starter Brian Boucher in Game 5 of the Bruins series when Boucher suffered a knee injury.
Leighton is now 3-0 in the postseason, making 28 saves for his first playoff shutout. He set the tone Sunday in the first period when he robbed Travis Moen in the slot with a nifty toe save and then, less than two minutes later, robbed Andrei Kostitsyn barreling down the slot.
"Definitely, why not?" Leighton said in an on-ice interview when asked if the momentum from the last round had carried over. "It was a huge win there in Boston. We knew it was going to be a challenge this series but we came out flying."
Perhaps the most unlikely candidate of all -- defenseman Braydon Coburn -- started the offensive onslaught, suggesting a special night might be in store for the home side.
Just 3:35 into the game, Coburn pinched on Philadelphia’s first power play and found himself in perfect position to bang a loose puck past goalie Jaroslav Halak. It was the first playoff goal of Coburn’s career.
James van Riemsdyk scored an even-strength goal just 30 seconds into the second period, starting a three-goal outburst that not only put the game out of reach, but chased Halak.
Danny Briere scored one second after a power play expired, taking a hard shot from the top of the right circle that escaped Halak’s vision because of a Scott Hartnell screen in the low slot. At the 9:53 mark of the second, Simon Gagne powered a shot past Halak from the opposite circle for a power-play goal. This time, Halak was screened by his own defensemen -- Hal Gill and Josh Gorges -- as well as Philadelphia forward Ville Leino.
Halak, who was replaced by Carey Price, has been the biggest difference maker in the upsets in each of the first two rounds, but he could not deal with Philadelphia’s power play or its incessant net-front presence on this day. Halak allowed four goals on just 13 shots. Two came on the power play and all four came with a Philadelphia player within 5 feet of his crease.
"I think in Game 1 in Pittsburgh we put in a battle," Gill said, absolving Halak of the blame. "I don't think we gave ourselves a chance tonight."
Hartnell blasted a shot from the high slot past Price at 12:13 of the third and Claude Giroux slipped a backhander past him with a little less than 7 minutes remaining to cap the scoring.
Before panic grips La Belle Province, remember this: Montreal lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, 6-3 in Pittsburgh, allowing four power-play goals in as many opportunities. Like Sunday night, Halak was pulled in that loss, allowing 5 goals on 20 shots.
Yet, the Canadiens found a way to rally, winning four of the next six games against a battle-tested team that had advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in each of the past two seasons and boasted Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, two of the biggest stars in the game today.
"We know they're going to try to put pucks at net -- their power play didn't shoot many pucks," Leighton said. "We know they're going to have to come out harder (in Game 2), we'll be ready for it."
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James van Riemsdyk
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James van Riemsdyk
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