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Flyers prepare for Canadiens in Eastern Conference semifinals

FOR 12 STRAIGHT DAYS, the job of Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen had been to focus on shutting down one very specific and talented player.

Mike Richards celebrates goal vs. Canadiens on Feb. 17.
Mike Richards celebrates goal vs. Canadiens on Feb. 17.Read moreYONG KIM/Daily News

FOR 12 STRAIGHT DAYS, the job of Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen had been to focus on shutting down one very specific and talented player.

Neutralizing Alex Ovechkin was the key to success for the Flyers in getting past the Washington Capitals and into the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The amount of minutes Timonen skated mirrored those of Ovechkin and in the end they paid off, for Timonen and the Flyers, who will face the Canadiens tonight in Montreal in the first game of the second playoff round.

But this time, Timonen's role will be slightly more difficult, if there is anything more daunting than hanging stride-for-stride with the dangerous Russian, because the Canadiens are a far deeper team.

"I think they're a more balanced team throughout the lineup," Flyers center Daniel Briere said. "They don't have the superstar like Washington does in Alex Ovechkin, but they probably have more depth and more speed than Washington. On defense they have a lot of guys that can move the puck really well, where Washington was bigger and always trying to punish you.

"It's going to be a tough one. We know that. There's a reason why they finished first in the Eastern Conference."

Montreal's Mike Komisarek (6-4, 242 pounds) leads all defensemen in blocked shots during the playoffs (26), and in nasty quotes.

"You want to play with a mean streak," he said. "You want to play with an edge out there, but at the same time you want to be under control and tough to play against. You're looking for a happy medium. You have to be on the edge, trying to find out how far you can push it.

"It's not a glamorous thing. It's blocking shots, hitting guys, but it's something I enjoy doing.

"It's using this body for trying to get in the way, breaking up plays, blocking shots. Making guys on the other team pay the price and taking away the will to play and compete."

Up front, the Canadiens have scoring across three forward lines, in addition to a solid and offensive backend. Their most potent line will be centered by Saku Koivu.

Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau switched Koivu to a line with Alex Kovalev and Chris Higgins for their Game 7 shutout of the Boston Bruins in the first round, trying to get Kovalev going. The Montreal regular-season points leader was stalled and Carbonneau was looking for answers after being pushed to the brink.

And then there is Carey Price. The rookie goalie has been exceptional, and was the reason Montreal traded Cristobal Huet to the Capitals this spring. Price had two shutouts in the Boston series, including Game 7.

Koivu is not the same kind of player that Ovechkin is, but he will be seeing a lot of Timonen, someone who knows him well. The two have played together on Finnish national teams and against each other in the NHL.

Montreal had played 3 weeks without Koivu while he recovered from a broken foot. The Canadiens' captain returned to play in Game 6 against Boston, and by most accounts was back to his midseason form

"It's going to be a battle again," Timonen said. "We're good buddies off the ice, but he knows and I know that when we step on the ice we're not friends anymore. That's how it works.

"I know what he's trying to do and what kind of player he is. I've known him for 10 years, and it might be a little advantage. But if I play against him it will be a big challenge again."

While Montreal will be a more difficult task, the Flyers are confident coming into the series, and they have reason.

Briere leads the playoffs in points (11) and goals (6) and Vaclav Prospal is tied for the lead in assists (6). Martin Biron, while shaky at times, minimized those moments and won his first playoff series, an experience that has him motivated for more.

Special teams also will be a factor. The Canadiens' power play was ranked first, one spot higher than the Flyers, in the regular season but struggled against Boston in their seven-game series, going 3-for-33.

The Flyers were better, though they also were not as good as they had been in regular-season play, going 8-for-36.

And then there are the intangibles, or the nasty factor. Montreal plays a very physical game and it is a big reason why the Flyers lost all four regular-season games against them, outscored 15-6.

Montreal will be revved up, ready and rested, while the Flyers still are catching their breath after clinching the quarterfinal series with Washington in overtime Tuesday night.

The fans will be in it, too. They love a villain, and they have it in Briere. The Montreal native spurned the Canadiens' offseason attempt to sign him, and every time he touches the puck the Bell Centre erupts in boos.

"That's actually a compliment," Briere said. "I take it as a compliment when you get booed. It was the same thing in Washington.

"We know it's going to be crazy with everything that's been going on. But for us, it's just exciting. Everybody thought we were dead after we lost Game 6. No one gave us a chance against Washington.

"Montreal is going to be a very different team, but I'm just excited that we're moving on."

Knuble update

Mike Knuble is not ruling out playing in this series.

Knuble, who tore a hamstring in Game 5 of the quarterfinals in Washington, said he is going to try to skate in Montreal.

"It's progressing but it is progressing slower than I thought," he said. "It is definitely improving.

"I haven't had any setback. Can I put a date on it? No. I think there will be some point where you have to let it heal up enough where it's not just one easy tweak and you're down again. I keep taking therapy sessions a couple of times a day. I'm just doing everything I can to get healthy."

Moptop missing

It's hard to decide what's funnier, the fact that Scott Hartnell has shed his curly-top image and straightened his hair, or the fact that he refers to his hair as "she."

The Flyers' hard-nosed but offbeat winger went with Joffrey Lupul for a haircut, and now he's curlless.

"We got the day off this morning. We went for breakfast and Lupul was going to get his hair cut so I went with him and I decided to get it blown out and this is how she looks, I guess," he said "Once I wash it I'm sure she'll go back to the old curly afro. It was kind of a fun thing to do once you see the smiles on the guys' faces." *