The Montreal Canadiens stunningly advanced into the Stanley Cup playoffs by defeating Pittsburgh in a win-or-go-home series. Because of the stakes they faced, the Canadiens’ intensity level has already been raised as they prepare to face the Flyers in Wednesday’s playoff opener.
The Flyers don’t think they will be at a disadvantage, intensity-wise.
Even though they weren’t in an elimination series when they swept three games in the round-robin tournament, they believe they, too, will enter the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in playoff form.
“Their games against Pittsburgh were very intense,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux acknowledged before Monday’s practice in Toronto. “Maybe they’ll be a little more ready than us early on.” But the round robin “wasn’t not intense. It was still pretty good. More intense than a regular-season game, I would say.”
Montreal’s matchups against the heavily favored Penguins “were obviously a little more important than our games,” center Kevin Hayes said. “But we were the fourth seed and jumped to the first seed. I think we took our games pretty seriously. I don’t think it should be a problem for our group.”
The Flyers are peaking. They outscored three Eastern Conference powerhouses, 11-3, and never trailed in the round-robin tournament.
“It’s going to be a tough round again,” said Montreal winger Tomas Tatar, who had 22 regular-season goals but was blanked against Pittsburgh. “I mean, they just secured the top seed, so that shows they’re a good team. They played pretty smooth all season, before the pandemic.”
And the Flyers’ lineup may be bolstered when the series starts Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena.
Top-line right winger Jake Voracek, who missed the Flyers’ 4-1 win Saturday over Tampa Bay because of an undisclosed injury or illness, was able to join the team at Monday’s practice. Coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t say whether he would play Wednesday.
Rookie Joel Farabee took Voracek’s spot and had a goal and an assist against the Lightning.
The Flyers went 2-1 against Montreal in the regular season, with both of their victories coming in overtime. Alex Lyon was in the nets for the Flyers’ loss.
“We had some really challenging games against Montreal,” Vigneault said. “They are a good, quick team. They just beat a team that obviously has a couple of superstars. We’re expecting a real tough opponent, a real tough series.”
The coaches made their conference calls sound like they were members of the Mutual Admiration Society.
Montreal coach Claude Julien said the Flyers were “the best team I’ve seen here so far. They have good balance. They’re deep at all positions.”
The Flyers (41-21-7) had 18 more points than the Habs (31-31-9) in the regular season and have a fairly substantial statistical advantage over Montreal in most categories, including goals scored (3.29 to 2.93 per game) and goals allowed (2.77 to 3.10 per game). In both of those categories, the Flyers were seventh in the NHL and Montreal was 19th.
Nate Thompson, who played with Montreal for parts of two seasons before being dealt to the Flyers at the trade deadline, has been a valuable fourth-line center and penalty killer in the round-robin tournament. He said the Habs “work extremely hard. They’re fast. They play a high-speed game. You have Carey Price on the back end as their backbone. They’re the real deal. They beat Pittsburgh for a reason. We have to make sure we’re ready.”
Despite beating their three round-robin opponents handily, Hayes thinks the Flyers can get to another level of play
Travis Konecny agreed.
“Our group has bought into a system. We believe in one another,” the right winger said. “AV has done a great job just making everyone trust in one another. Every guy believes in the next guy behind them. It’s just a fun atmosphere to be a part of. Moving forward in the playoffs, that’s what you need.”
He said the Flyers have been working on “finding that perfect game. I still wouldn’t even say we have that exactly right now,” Konecny said. “We’re on the right track. Two hundred feet is definitely something you need to look at when you’re playing these important games. It’s not just about scoring goals.”
The Flyers and Canadiens have not scored any power-play goals in the postseason. The Flyers are 0-for-11, the Habs are 0-for-12. In the regular season, the Flyers’ power play clicked at 20.8% (14th in the NHL), while the Canadiens were successful 17.7% of the time and placed 22nd in the league.