MONTREAL - The Flyers and Montreal Canadiens - two teams going in different directions - did an about-face last night.
Montreal ended a three-game losing streak as it defeated the Flyers, 5-2, before a typically vociferous crowd at the sold-out Bell Centre.
The Flyers, who had just one regulation loss in their previous 17 games, seemed a step too slow all night and had their five-game winning streak snapped.
"It was just one of those nights where the puck didn't go in, but we'll put this behind us," said winger Arron Asham, who scored the Flyers' first goal, and along with third-line teammates Glen Metropolit and Scottie Upshall, formed the club's best line.
It was a battle of the backup goalies - and Montreal's Jaroslav Halak was sharper than Antero Niittymaki. Halak was playing because Carey Price has a lower-body injury and has missed the last five games. Niittymaki, whose team didn't give him much help - he faced four breakaways (stopping two) - was playing because Marty Biron has the flu.
Facing a 4-1 deficit starting the final period, the Flyers didn't have a miracle rally like the one that propelled them to a 6-5 triumph over Carolina on Dec. 11.
"What we did against Carolina was something special," said defenseman Luca Sbisa, referring to the greatest late-game comeback in the franchise's 41-year history. "But we can't let a game slip away and think we can do that every night."
"We dug ourselves an early hole and gave them easy goals - and you can't do that when a team is struggling like they were," winger Joffrey Lupul said.
The Canadiens were coming off a 3-2 loss at Carolina on Tuesday, a game in which Montreal complained to the league about the officiating. In that game, Carolina had 11 power plays for 18 minutes, 10 seconds, while the Canadiens had one power play for two minutes.
Last night, Montreal had six power plays - four more than the Flyers - and scored on two of them.
The Flyers got to within 4-2 on a gift goal by defenseman Braydon Coburn with 6 minutes, 32 seconds left.
Coburn floated a high shot toward the net that defenseman Francis Bouillon tried to knock down. The puck deflected off Bouillon's glove and past Halak.
The Flyers had a brief flurry and nearly got to within a goal, but a late penalty - preventing an empty-net goal - gave Montreal a power play and the Canadiens secured the win on Guillaume Latendresse's goal with 1:03 left.
Breakaway goals by Matt D'Agostini and temporary captain Alex Kovalev (captain Saku Koivu is injured) helped stake Montreal to a 4-1 lead heading into the final period.
"I don't remember a game all year where we gave up two breakaway [goals]," coach John Stevens said.
It was the Flyers' first game against Montreal since Kovalev hit Simon Gagne's head with his shoulder and left two bruises on the winger's face on Nov. 15. The visiting Flyers won that night, 2-1.
There was no retribution last night.
Scott Hartnell and Kovalev got into a brief shoving match with 4:30 left in the second period, but nothing developed and no penalties were accessed. (The Flyers did get a delay-of-game penalty at the time.)
With the Flyers trailing by 4-1, Hartnell's shorthanded shot from the slot appeared ticketed with 2:44 to play in the second period, but Halak made a brilliant glove save to keep the Canadiens' three-goal cushion.
The Flyers were handed just their second regulation loss in nearly six weeks. They had been 6-0-1 in December.
"We didn't expect to win the rest of our games," Lupul said, "but hopefully we learned our lesson tonight and can get back to playing better on Saturday" when they host Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.