PHILADELPHIA -- Only a few of the Montreal Canadiens bothered to skate on a practice day that seemed a little odd considering the majority of them had already done more or less the same thing the night before.
|Danny Briere and the Flyers kept Mike Cammalleri and the Habs from pressing their speed advantage. (Getty Images)|
The Flyers, mind you, have no reason to take a back seat in the noteworthiness department even though the teams they beat on the way to the Eastern Conference finals didn't have the same caché as those Montreal overcame. But Philadelphia managed a historic rebound after losing the first three games to Boston, and if nothing else, that has to put its accomplishments on par with those of the Canadiens.
Still if Montreal doesn't figure out a way to deal with the Flyers' size and physicality, elements the Canadiens did not face in their earlier-round victory against Washington and Pittsburgh, the separation in this battle of Cinderella teams will become much more clearly defined and very quickly. And the irony is that Montreal was really beaten at its own game, with the Flyers doing things Montreal has become noted for in these playoffs by blocking shots, keeping plays to the outside, making the most of opportunities and getting timely saves from goalie Michael Leighton.
"We weren't ready and it showed because when we'd get the puck down low instead of stalling and moving it a bit, we kind of rushed a play and didn't force them to be play in their own end enough," Montreal forward Glen Metropolit said about the 6-0 Game 1 whipping. "We have to initiate but it was like we were kind of waiting around to see what they're bringing and unfortunately we found out."
Problem is the revelation was not necessarily encouraging. The Canadiens knew they would be dealing with a much more aggressive team in the Flyers than they had seen previously, but they were working on the assumption that their speed and the presumed advantage they had in goal with Jaroslav Halak would be enough to offset the fundamental part of Philadelphia's game.
But Halak was merely ordinary for a change and more important, Philadelphia did an impressive job of neutralizing Montreal's speed by keeping its attack from getting started. When the Canadiens did manage to penetrate Philadelphia's zone, they were generally forced to the sides by Chris Pronger and company where good shots were hard to come by.
"Obviously X's and O's didn't have much to play into it; we just weren't skating," Brian Gionta said. "They've got a forechecking team that's going to get in and forecheck hard.
Game 1 recap: Flyers batter Halak, Canadiens
Practice blog: Briere, Gagne, Giroux feel at home
"If they're coming that hard on the forecheck, you can make one or two quick passes, you catch them quick and it kind of slows them up the next time. We've got to do a better job of moving the puck quicker and tiring them out and making them skate a little more."
It wouldn't hurt if Montreal were a bit more disciplined either. The Canadiens took six penalties to Philadephia's four, and the Flyers scored on two of them and got a third only seconds after one had expired and the offending player could not get back into the play.
But the biggest difference in Game 1 was the Flyers' ability to make life miserable for Halak. The Montreal goalie was pulled midway through the second period after allowing four goals and spending most of the night trying to see through the traffic Philadelphia was creating around him.
"We have to do a better job boxing them out," Halak said. "But this is just one game. We have to make some adjustments and we'll be fine."
Maybe. Truth is that despite the stirring run Montreal has put together so far, the Canadiens do not have history on their side. Since the 1967-68 expansion and the NHL went to three and later four rounds of playoffs, not once has a team that has been pushed to the limit in the first two series had enough left to win the third round. That's 12 series in all, beginning with the St. Louis Blues, who as an expansion team opened the 1968 playoffs with seven-game victories against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Minnesota North Stars before getting swept by the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals. More recently, the Carolina Hurricanes were twice forced to the limit last season before being swept in the Eastern finals by the eventual Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Not that any of it matters right now to the Canadiens.
"We lost battles, tried to make cute plays ... you try and make those little plays against them and they'll jam them down your throat," Montreal defenseman Hal Gill said. "We weren't good in front of the net, we didn't block shots; you could go on and on.
"We need more oomph. We'll learn from it, but you have to have a short memory."
Or deal with the possibility of a short series.