PHILADELPHIA -- Go ahead and panic Canadiens fans, it's time now. For real. You may have felt like it when Montreal was blown out in the series opener, but then you would have been jumping the gun.
The Canadiens have made a habit of coming back in these playoffs after all, and from situations that looked a lot worse than what they faced after Game 1.
|'You gotta score to win, and we haven't found a way to do that yet,' Scott Gomez says. (Getty Images)|
So if you tried hard enough, you could have found reasons to avoid pressing the button following the embarrassment.
Excuses even. Not anymore.
Whether the Canadiens have simply run out of gas or are up against a team that has the kind of defense they are not big enough or tough enough to penetrate, Montreal had the look of a team that had no answers after the Flyers beat them at its own game for the second time in a row.
"I guess we're getting a little bit of our own medicine," Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill said after Philadelphia used a combination of better special teams, tight defense and superior goaltending to claim a 3-0 victory and a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. What should be most troubling to the Canadiens is that it had a chance to take control of this game against a Flyers team that still may not have hit their peak. The Flyers talked about expecting a better effort from Montreal after the opening game debacle, but still seem unprepared for the aggressive start they faced from the visitors.
"The thing that I like is the fact that we all feel like we haven't played our best games yet, certainly not for the first 40 minutes," said Danny Briere, who continued his sizzling postseason with a power-play goal less than five minutes in that turned out to be the winner. "But to win when you're not at your best is a positive thing because we still have more in the tank."
Obviously that's not good news for the Canadiens, who were unable to take advantage of the sluggish Flyers start. Montreal outshot the Flyers 16-6 in the opening period and had three power plays that provided several good scoring chances.
"We had one good player out there and the rest of us, we were average and that's not good enough," Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "We won the game and we can enjoy it, but now we kind of have to realize we're not doing our jobs as well as we can."
That's one way of looking at it.
Certainly the Canadiens had better legs than they did in the opener and managed more time in Philadelphia's zone. But despite an effort that had many of their players sensing progress, and aside from their first period man advantages, the Canadiens couldn't get to the front of the net nearly enough to do any damage against Philadelphia's physical defensemen and its strong back-checking forwards. That's a problem Montreal had in the opener and it became even more pronounced in Game 2.
"Maybe we're squeezing our sticks too much, but we gotta find a way to score, to throw it at the net just to get that first one, even an ugly one and go from there," Scott Gomez said. "I mean, you gotta score to win in this game, and we haven't found a way to do that yet. It seems to be the wrong time to be in one of those funks."
Especially with the Flyers making Montreal's playoff hero Jaroslav Halak seem rather ordinary in net these days. Halak was beaten clean by Briere's bullet shot high on his glove side, but Simon Gagne's goal in the second period -- his sixth in six games since returning from a broken foot -- came after he couldn't freeze the puck in a pileup and Ville Leino came up with an ugly one beating Halak with a harmless looking and unscreened shot from the left wall in the third period.
Not that it really mattered by that point, because the Flyers were doing their best skating of the night in the third period, keeping the Canadiens back on their heels and perhaps setting the tone for the series as it switches venues.
"We've got to go back home and make sure it makes a difference, we can't just go out back and expect it to all change, we have to work at it," Gill said. "They're a good team, they're playing well, they have momentum and we have to find a way to break that momentum."
Easier said than done.