Flyers seize control
Flyers 3, Canadiens 0
MONTREAL -- The Flyers are now one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals. Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere returned to the lineup for the first time in about a month, and the Flyers regained control of their NHL Eastern Conference final series against the Montreal Canadiens with a 3-0 victory.
That is the news in two sentences. The context is much more complex, though.
With all due respect to Carter (returning from a broken foot) and Laperriere (from multiple head traumas suffered when blocking a shot), they were not the reason the Flyers gained a three-games-to-one lead in the series. There is no question that their teammates were glad to see them back and probably received some resulting jolt of adrenaline with their returns, but it wasn't decisive.
The Flyers won this game because they wrung the life out of it. They played how you have to play against the super-fast Canadiens, especially in the Bell Centre. It is a persistent style, patient and simple and physical most of all. It is all about safe choices and physical punctuation. It is about a willingness to throw the puck into the zone and go get it, to create a grinding mindset, and to force every counterattack by the Canadiens to travel 150 feet or so, rather than 100.
It is not pretty. Truth be told, NBC must have been crying as the Flyers' machinelike domination of the middle of the game began to manifest itself. The Canadiens, so rocket-fueled in their 5-1 victory in Game 3 of the series, had only one shot in the second period. They had zero shots for the first 13:34 of the period. The Canadiens were much better in the third period, and the Flyers might have gone into a little bit too much of a shell, but at that point, trying to overcome a two-goal lead remains a tough task against a team determined to protect it.
Meanwhile, the Flyers' first two goals were beauties. Claude Giroux got the first one at 5:41 of the second period, turning the corner on the Canadiens' defense and flipping a neat little forehand past Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Then, at 14:53 of the second, Ville Leino was the recipient of an exquisite breakaway pass from defenseman Chris Pronger, and he ended up kind of oomphing the puck over the goal line before the net was dislodged in a crash. The third goal, by Giroux again, was scored into an empty net.
Flyers goaltender Michael Leigton, meanwhile, got his third shutout of this series and his fourth of the playoffs, adding another chapter to the storybook. And while he made some nice saves, particularly on a late third period flurry, he would be the first one to tell you that this game was about a lot more than him -- a lot more. It was about a mindset most of all.