The Flyers pushed the upstart Montreal Canadiens to the brink of elimination Tuesday and moved to within one victory of their first Stanley Cup playoff series win since 2012.
Carter Hart recorded his second straight shutout, and the Flyers got goals from (top-line left winger!) Michael Raffl and defenseman Phil Myers as they defeated Montreal, 2-0, and took a three-games-to-one lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in Toronto.
The Flyers can wrap up the best-of-seven series with a win in Wednesday’s 8 p.m. matchup. They are 20-2 in series in which they have won three of the first four games.
Hart, who turned 22 last week, made 29 saves and became the third goalie in franchise history to register consecutive playoff shutouts, joining Bernie Parent (1975) and Michael Leighton (2010). He also became the second-youngest goalie in NHL history to record back-to-back playoff shutouts, and just the fourth goaltender to do so under the age of 23, according to the NHL.
“Hartsy’s been an absolute wall for us back there,” Myers said. “The way he’s playing right now, he‘s the best in the league.”
After controlling the first period, the Flyers were outplayed in the second session but were able to take a 2-0 lead into the third thanks in part to a soft goal allowed by Carey Price.
Yes, even great goaltenders make mistakes.
With 2 minutes, 56 seconds left in the second, Myers fired an innocent-looking 45-foot shot from near the right boards that appeared to be going wide. But it deflected off Price’s stick and into the net to put the Flyers ahead, 2-0.
“I was just trying to put it on net,” Myers said. “Got lucky and got a good bounce. I’ll take it.”
“That was the break we needed,” Montreal interim coach Kirk Muller said. “But, you know, you create your own breaks.”
The Canadiens had a 10-5 edge in shots in the second, but Hart stood tall. On one of his saves, he got a pad on Jeff Petry’s long blast and deflected it off the post with 5:42 left, the seventh time Montreal had hit iron in the last two games.
Less than three minutes later, Myers’ surprising tally gave the Flyers a two-goal cushion.
Coach Alain Vigneault, unhappy with the team’s offensive production, made two lineup changes, shuffled all four lines, and got the start he wanted.
Raffl, moved from the fourth to the first line, took a drop pass from Sean Couturier and, from the top of the right circle, whipped a perfectly placed shot into the upper left corner to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead with 13:38 left in the first.
“These are all tight games, and to get the lead, it boosts everyone’s confidence,” Raffl said. “And we were just committed to finishing it off for another great win tonight.”
Unlike in their 1-0 win on Sunday, the Flyers had numerous odd-man rushes in the first period, during which they outshot the Canadiens, 11-5, and won 73% of the faceoffs.
If the NHL didn’t increase its playoff field, the Canadiens would be on the golf course, their season long completed.
In a way, they had conceded that their games didn’t matter when they made three deals at the trade deadline, saying au revoir to veterans and stockpiling draft choices.
But then the coronavirus pandemic caused the NHL to expand its tournament from 16 teams to 24. So Montreal, which had the fewest points of any of the original 24 teams in the tournament, gladly accepted its reprieve, started getting production from its young players, and didn’t resemble the team that had nine more losses than wins in the regular season.
The Habs stunned Pittsburgh in the play-in series and have given the Flyers all they can handle in the conference quarterfinals.
The Flyers, however, have regrouped after Montreal’s 5-0 win in Game 2, and they have emerged as the NHL’s top defensive team in the postseason. They have allowed an average of 1.29 goals over seven postseason games, the best of any of the 24 teams that have been in the tournament.
Hart, who is expected to start Wednesday’s game, saluted his teammates for keeping the opponents’ shots to the outside and for the way they are making key blocks.
“I think we’re just being aggressive, but being aggressive in a smart way,” Myers said. “We’re trying to keep their time and space away as best we can.”