Habs - Flyers Game 2: Ugly
Probably the word that best describes Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. At least for the Montreal Canadiens.
Words such as embarrassing, cringe-worthy, disconcerting and humiliating also come to mind, but when you really get done to the nitty-gritty of what happened Sunday night in Philadelphia, UGLY is really the most accurate term you could use.
For those who missed the game, or have already wiped it clean from their memory, the Montreal Canadiens were simply owned by the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 6-0. Micheal Leighton made 28 saves in the win, and the Flyers got goals from six different players. Seven total players have multiple points, and Claude Giroux led the team with a +4 rating. The Flyers scored 2 of their goals on the powerplay after some bad penalties from the Canadiens early in the game.
As for the team as a whole, the Flyers proved that they were simply stronger than the Canadiens. The Habs seemed to be a stride behind the play the entire game, and despite coming out strong early in the game, they fell back quickly, and they fell hard. After a early flurry (they led the 1st period shots 13 to 6), the whole team just seemed to give up. They couldn't penetrate the Flyers zone, their big defensemen and checkers wouldn't let them get anywhere near Leighton, and they were disappointed time and time again.
Out-muscled, out-scored, out-played.
The Flyers put a forth a brag-worthy performance and completely destroyed the Canadiens. And brad they did (article from TCL contributor Dustin Leed).
Not a very good way to start the 3rd leg our your supposed ''Cinderella journey''.
But you know what? As a habs fans, I'm kind of happy game 1 went down the way it did.
When this series became a sealed deal on Friday night, many people, myself included, knew that this would be the toughest test for the Canadiens yet (article by TCL's Rob McGowan). While beating the Capitals and Penguins was no easy task, it could be argued that those weren't physical teams, and that they didn't really have the components to match what the Canadiens ended up doing defensively, and, of course, in goal, thanks to Jaroslav Halak.
The Flyers, however, are a different monster. Bigger, stronger, tougher than nearly any other team in the Eastern Conference, maybe even the the league. A balanced offense that can score at you from any angle and any line, and a defense with both experience and toughness, especially in leader Chris Pronger.
If all that wasn't enough, the Flyers, just like the Canadiens, had the ''Cinderella'' factor going into this series. Facing adversity all throughout the season when it came to injuries and making the playoffs, and even in the playoffs themselves, facing a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins, the Flyers have seen everything the Canadiens have this season, maybe even more.
Combine all of these things, and it's evident that the Canadiens are facing a different monster in this leg of their journey, of their attempt to make history and head to the Stanley Cup finals.
It's also evident that heading into this series, the Canadiens were not prepared to face a team that was, as mentioned, completely different than the two prior teams that they upset. And if the Canadiens had lost Sunday night's game by a tame score of 2-1, if a few bounces went a different way and the Canadiens came out of that game with some home, coach Jacques Martin, his staff and his players would not come out of that game with any attempt to make adjustments.
After game 4 of the Quarterfinals, when the Habs were blown out by the Capitals and had their backs placed up against a wall, facing a 3-1 deficit and their potential elimination in game 5 in Washington, they adapted. They found ways to get in front of Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstom, and they shut them down. They found weaknesses in their defense, and they exploited them to get into their zone. And, of course, they found ways to beat a hot Symeon Varlamov just enough to let Jaroslav Halak do all the rest.
In round 2, similarly to Sunday night, they were blown out by the Penguins in game 1. And similarly to what they did in game 5 of the first round and beyond, they found ways to adapt. To shut down and frustrate Sidney Crosby, to embarrass Marc-Andre Fleury and to once again exploit their defense and allow Mike Cammalleri to break out and score 7 goals in 7 games.
And once again in round 3, they have to find ways to adapt.
As stated above, the Flyers are a different monster than the Penguins or Capitals. For every player the Canadiens are going to try and focus on, there will always be another to take his place and threaten the team offensively.
If they decide to place their attention on Danielle Brière (which they should), there will still be Mike Richards. If they shut down Richards, the Flyers still have Gagné, they still have Giroux, Van Riemsdyk, they still have Scott Hartnell, and defensemen Timonen, Coburn and Pronger.
While not a reason to throw the match-up book out the window, Jacques Martin needs to find a way to neutralize an offense than can come at you from every which way.
Moreover, J-Mart and his staff are going to have to find a way to penetrate the blueline and get as close to Michael Leighton as possible. While it hasn't happened yet, and Leighton continues to prove himself, we all know he isn't a top-tier goalie in the league and win or lose these playoffs, the Flyers will definitely be looking to upgrade their position between the pipes when their season is over. But right now, Leighton is hot, and Leighton has proven to be a formidable opponent for the Canadiens. How to beat him? Ride him, get in his face, get in his personal space, and crash the crease like you've never crashed the crease before.
Easier said than done, but like we've said countless times these playoffs, no one ever said any part of this was going to be easy.
More importantly, the Canadiens simply have to stay disciplined. Scott Gomez took two minor penalties in game 1, for roughing and slashing, things that could easily be avoided. While good indicators of Gomez's passion and frustration in game 1, he's one of the Habs penalty killers and one of their most important forwards, with and without the puck. He sets an example for the rest of his teammates, and while he shouldn't let the opposition push him around, he shouldn't let them get to his head either.
Chris Pronger had several opportunities to be the Chris Pronger we've all come to know and hate, but he kept his emotions in check and didn't let the Canadiens get to him and didn't let himself do something stupid. Gomez needs to take Pronger's attitude as an example and attribute it to his own game.
Finally, and maybe MOST importantly, Jaroslav Halak needs to be the goalie that he was against the Capitals. While a major factor in the victory against the Penguins, he hasn't really blown anyone out of the water since he nearly single-handedly eliminated the Capitals a month ago. Halak needs to take every game as if it needs to be the best of his career. Clearly, the Canadiens' success rests on his shoulders. While game 1 cannot be totally blamed on him, distribution of blame shouldn't even have to be mentioned. Halak can steal games, he can steal series, and he's going to have to steal this one.
To recap, the five keys to a victory tonight:
1. Play a balanced game in terms of both offense AND defense. Spread your energy amongst most of the Flyers offensive weapons and make sure that they don't get the chances they did in game 1.
2. Make Michael Leighton's life a living hell. Crash the crease like you never have before, get up in his grill and don't give him an inch.
3. Find a way to get into Chris Pronger's head. He is a beast in every aspect of the game, and he is clearly the Flyers leader. If you can get him to sit in the penalty box, for even two minutes, if you can frustrate him and get him angry, it may play to your advantage.
4. Keep your emotions in check and stay out of the box! That doesn't mean play the game less physically, nor does it mean that they should let the Flyers walk all over them, but know your limits and know what it'll take to keep yourself out of the box.
5. Finally, Jaroslav Halak, play the game of your life. It's our only hope.
Just like game 1, game 2 will be ugly. Just simply scrolling around the blogosphere, reading the papers (I'm looking at you, Pat Hickey), you can already feel tensions rising, blood beginning to boil, anger starting to creep through. There is no love lost between these two franchises and fanbases, and if it hasn't translated onto the on-ice product yet, it is certain to do so in the coming days.
The Canadiens and their fans can only hope that that will work in their favor, and that they will be able to come out of Philly with a split. Otherwise, we'll be using all the same words to describe game 2 and what's to come on Thursday and Saturday in Montreal.
Game 2 goes at 7PM tonight. There WILL be a live blog, but unfortunately I won't be around to participate. Still, you can join Steven Hindle, Kamal Panesar and some very special guests at THIS LINK, starting tonight at 6:30PM EST!
Enjoy the game tonight, as it could be the turning point of the series. No predictions from me today, as that clearly didn't work out for me prior to game 1.
Also, read TCL's Mark Trible's preview of tonight's game!