There are two ways to look at the Flyers’ 2-1 escape Wednesday over Montreal in Game 1 of their hard-fought Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
From the Canadiens’ perspective, the loss at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena demonstrated there’s not much difference between their eighth-seeded team and the top-seeded Flyers.
“We showed we can play with them,” Montreal defenseman Shea Weber said.
From the Flyers’ perspective, it could serve as a wake-up call, making them realize they would have dropped the opener if not bailed out by unflappable goalie Carter Hart.
The Canadiens were coming off an emotional play-in series against heavily favored Pittsburgh, which they won, three games to one. The Flyers, meanwhile, won all three round-robin games in a less-intense seeding tournament.
“I really think they benefited from playing a series before,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said Thursday in a Zoom call with reporters. “Obviously, with us just playing three games against three different teams is a little bit different. They got that taste of real playoff hockey. Definitely give them credit; they were relentless out there and played pretty well. I don’t think we played too well as a team. It’s good going forward for the rest of the series.”
He meant the Flyers would learn from their mistakes in Game 1.
The teams will meet Friday in Game 2 at 3 p.m. in Toronto, the Eastern Conference’s hub city.
The Flyers, who were nearly flawless as they beat Boston, Washington, and Tampa Bay, and stole the top seed in the round-robin tournament, played solidly in the first and third periods against the Canadiens. They were hard on pucks, created good scoring chances, and generally tilted the ice in their favor.
The second period, however, was their worst 20 minutes of their four post-season games. By far.
They were dominated in the second by the speedy Canadiens, getting outshot, 17-7. Still, the Flyers managed to take a 2-1 lead into the third on a hard-working goal by rookie Joel Farabee. Both teams had one second-period goal.
“We turned too many pucks over in the second, and they were skating by our checks,” said left winger Scott Laughton, aware the Flyers must do a better job of containing feisty winger Brendan Gallagher (seven shots). “I think we’ve got to be better at stopping and starting and making it harder on their D to go back and retreat pucks.
“Probably not our best game,” Laughton added, “but I thought we picked it up in the third, and we were able to close them out, and Hartsy did a really good job.”
Justin Braun, Gostisbehere’s defensive partner, said the Flyers need to “be harder in some areas and play smarter.”
The Flyers did a nice job shutting down the Habs in the third period and controlled a good portion of the play.
“I think we just got back to playing a simpler game, not trying to do too much,” Braun said. “Get it deep and make them come 200 feet, and in the second we got in trouble with some turnovers and not getting the puck out at the blue line – and that led to a lot of chances for them. We got back to the recipe that worked in the first, and that really helped us.”
Coach Alain Vigneault said: “When the game was on the line, I felt we played pretty good. It was a first step in playoff hockey. You’ve got to get better in every game, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Center Sean Couturier, who had seven shot attempts (four on goal), five hits, and won nine of 14 faceoffs (64%) in Game 1, was thinking along the same lines.