The Flyers could make life easier if their top lines and power play would start clicking.
So far, goaltending and strong defensive work have carved out a two-games-to-one lead in their grinding Eastern Conference quarterfinal against tougher-than-its-seeding Montreal.
Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes, who center the Flyers’ Nos. 1 and 2 lines, respectively, know their units can improve. They get their next chance in Game 4 Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Toronto.
“I think we definitely have more to give — offensively, anyway,” Couturier said in a Zoom call with reporters Monday. “Defensively we’re there. We’re responsible. We’ve got to find a way to create some chances. I think there’s a lot of one-and-dones. As long as we’re responsible and trying to contribute in different ways when it’s not working, that’s important.”
The top-seeded Flyers have the series lead over the eighth-seeded Canadiens in the best-of-seven despite scoring a total of three goals and going 1-for-14 on the power play.
Thanks to Carter Hart and a defense that had several key blocked shots, they won Sunday’s tense game, 1-0. They won despite squandering six power-play chances.
In six postseason games, the Flyers are 5-1 and have not gotten any goals from their big guns: Couturier, Hayes, Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux, or James van Riemsdyk.
“We’re finding ways to win games,” Couturier said. “That’s what counts at this time of the year. But we’ve definitely got to find a way to create more chances.”
The Canadiens’ top two defensive pairs — Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot, and Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak — have been physical and effective.
The Weber-Chiarot pairing has been particularly strong. Weber, even at 35, is still a dominating player.
Couturier called him a “world-class” defenseman. “He’s big. He’s tough. He’s physical,” he said. “He’s hard to play against, and he’s got a tremendous shot. It’s never easy going against him.”
Added Couturier, who had five hits in each of the Flyers’ wins in the series: “I think we’ve just got to keep forechecking. Keep being physical on them. We’re doing a good job trying to make their life hard recovering pucks back there. It’s going to pay off in the long run. We’ve just got to stick with it and our chances will come.”
Like Couturier’s line, Hayes’ unit needs to regain its offensive rhythm.
“I think in the two games that we won, we played the right way, defensively,” Hayes said. “I know they hit a couple posts, but I think we did as well. As the first and second lines, between myself and Coots, I think we do need to provide more offensively. I think we’re trying our hardest to do so. It’s playoff hockey and sometimes you’ve got to win 1-0. I’m sure we would like to win by scoring a lot of goals every night. It just doesn’t happen. I think we’ll regroup as lines, watch film, and see what we can do better.”
“Offensively, it’s been a real challenge … for both teams to generate opportunities,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “It’s playoff hockey. There’s not a lot of room. It’s very competitive. It’s very physical.”
Couturier’s line produced the only goal in Game 3 as Jake Voracek (two goals in three games) deflected Claude Giroux’s shot past Carey Price with 14 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first period.
Hart did the rest, though he was helped by five Montreal shots that hit iron. Hart, 22, made 23 saves and became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to collect a playoff shutout. He is 243 days younger than Pete Peeters when he had a playoff shutout against the Rangers in 1980.
The Flyers played a much more physical game than in their 5-0 loss Friday. They outhit Montreal, 36-23, and had a sizable advantage in blocked shots (24-10), including six by Matt Niskanen.
“We were able to grease it out,” Vigneault said.
After the Game 3 win, Voracek was in a playful move as he talked about the irrepressible Hart.
“It’s a good thing he’s a little too oblivious to some things [like] being a goalie in Philadelphia,” Voracek cracked.
In other words, the unflappable Hart seems immune to the pressure.
“He’s very strong mentally,” Voracek said. “He’s pretty impressive the way he bounces back.”