Presumably, winning a chance to play for the Stanley Cup should be more than enough incentive for the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final, but for the three Quebec natives on the team, there would be an added bonus to getting there by going through Montreal.
Daniel Briere alluded to it after Philadelphia blasted through the Canadiens in Game 1 of the series, and Simon Gagne picked up on the theme today after the Flyers off-day practice. Gagne made it clear there a lot of extra emotion for him, Briere and Claude Giroux when they play Montreal.
“I can’t lie, it’s a little more special playing Montreal,” said Gagne, who joined his provincial homies on the scoring chart during the Flyers 6-0 rout. “You’ve got everybody back home – your friends, your family a lot of people watching you on TV. The city’s going crazy right now over there and it’s going to be speciaI to go there for four days and be a part of it.”
Certainly it will be if Philadelphia continues playing the way it did in the series opener. The Flyers naturally felt it necesary to find some flaws in their effort, claiming they could have done a better job at even strength. Still they dominated the proceedings even more than the score would indicate, surviving a sluggish start by rattling the Canadiens with their willingness to bang bodies and aggressive forechecking. More important and unlike the Penguins and Capitals before them, the Flyers had more traffic in front of the Montreal goal than downtown Philly at rush hour, and their power play made the Canadiens frequent trips to the penalty box costly with a pair of goals.
“We didn’t have our best game but we were opportunistic with our chances and we moved the puck well,” Flyers captain Mike Richards rationalized. “Overall I thought we lacked some energy, but a win’s a win at this time of year and we’ve got to look forward to tomorrow night.”
No doubt the Canadiens are doing the same thing because it’s a lot easier than thinking about what happened to them in Game 1. And the Flyers are expecting to see a much different team as a result.
“We’ll definitely see a better game from them,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “Montreal probably didn’t like their game last night, but I’ll guarantee they’re waking up today and still having fun. You have to at this point in time, it’s what you play for the entire season.”
Laviolette was obviously having fun when he addressed the media, in part because Philadelphia seems to be getting closer to the return of its top scorer, Jeff Carter. Carter broke his foot in the opening round and was expected to be sidelined for up to eight weeks, but he skated at the Flyers practice and could return before this series is over, although Laviolette declined to set any timetable.
“I don’t think anybody was expecting Carts to be skating that early, it was surprising,” Gagne said. "I know how badly he wants to come back but it’s a process and you never know,
Just as you never know when you’ll get a chance will come to live out a dream, say like playing against Montreal in the playoffs. Against Montreal?
“I grew up two hours from there,” Gagne laughed. “So I was a Quebec Nordiques fan.”