MONTREAL - The Canadiens made it 2-for-2 on Super Bowl weekend as Michael Ryder and Cristobal Huet teamed up in a resounding 5-0 win over the Flyers Sunday afternoon at the Bell Centre.
Ryder broke out of a seven-game scoring slump with his first ever NHL hat trick to lead the Canadiens (25-22-6) to their second win in as many days. Montreal is now back to within a point of the Maple Leafs for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Ryder opened the scoring on a Canadiens 5-on-3 advantage when he corralled a perfect cross-crease feed from Saku Koivu before roofing a wrist shot past an outstretched Antero Niittymaki. Ryder struck again early in the third period, when he tucked a pass from Steve Begin past Niittymaki on a wonderfully executed 2-on-1 break. The 25-year-old then completed his trifecta with a backhand that banked off of Niittymaki and somehow managed to trickle past the goal line. Ryder now leads the team with 23 goals and remains just two goals shy of his 25-goal, rookie-of-the-year runner-up season of 2003-04.
"Yeah, it's not a bad way to break out of a slump that's for sure," said Ryder. "I just wanted to make sure that I didn't try to do anything different. I wanted keep shooting and not try to change much because that's when you go in those really deep slumps. I just wanted to go out there and work hard. When you're working hard, you get a couple of bounces and that's what happened today."
Though thrilled to register his first career NHL hat trick, Ryder almost didn't survive his post-goal celebration.
"It was exciting and a great rush, especially since it's my first one. But so many guys hit me on the head after I scored it that I still don't know if I now have a concussion or not," laughed Ryder, whose last hat trick goes back to his AHL days, in an 8-5 Bulldogs win over Manitoba on Jan. 25, 2003.
Huet picked up his second shutout in a little over 24 hours by following up his 34-save performance on Saturday with a 25-save effort on Sunday. Dating back to a third period goal he allowed in Boston on Thursday, Huet is now riding a 147:27 shutout streak that has seen the 30-year-old stop all 72 shots he's faced over that span.
"I'm feeling really good right now, that's for sure," said Huet, who also became the first Canadiens goalie to register consecutive shutouts since Jose Theodore blanked both the Devils and Penguins by identical 1-0 scores on Feb. 5 and Feb. 7, 2002. "My confidence just carried over from yesterday. And of course playing with a 4-0 lead made my job that much easier, so my teammates deserve a lot of credit for getting us that lead. I think they played their best game of the season here today and as a result I didn't have many difficult stops to make."
Huet may not have had that busy of an afternoon, especially through the first and second periods that saw the Flyers muster only 12 shots, but Canadiens coach Bob Gainey saw it differently.
"When a goalie is seeing the puck as well as Cristobal is right now, good things happen," said Gainey. "It may have seemed as though Huet didn't have any difficult stops to make, but that's because he made it look easy by always being in the right position. It was as if he was there before the puck was."
Huet also became the first Canadiens goalie to shut out the Flyers since Andre Racicot made 26 saves in 0-0 tie at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on Feb. 11, 1993.
The Canadiens are now a perfect 3-0 this season against the Flyers following a 5-3 win last week in Philadelphia and a 3-2 overtime victory at the Bell Centre on Oct. 25. Montreal will look for their first regular season sweep of Philadelphia since the 1976-77 season when the Canadiens pay a visit to the Flyers on March 6.
After enjoying a career night with four goals in Montreal's win over the Flyers on Jan. 25, Jan Bulis was at it again as he scored his 14th of the season midway through the second period. Bulis accepted a pass from fellow Czech Tomas Plekanec before slipping in alone and beating Niittymaki low on his blocker side.
Sheldon Souray got in on the action with his fifth goal of the season to extend his point streak to five games (2-3-5).
Niittymaki stopped 31-of-36 shots for the Flyers (31-15-9), who have managed only one win in their last six games since losing Peter Forsberg to a nagging groin problem.
The Canadiens' 15 shots in the opening period matched their three-period combined total against Philadelphia last week. Montreal's opening period shot barrage marked their most explosive start in 34 games, when the Canadiens fired 16 shots at Roberto Luongo in the first 20 minutes of a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre on Nov. 15.
The Canadiens will open a home-and-home series against the Sabres Tuesday at the Bell Centre before heading to Buffalo on Thursday.
NOTES : D Mark Streit, D Jean-Philippe Cote and RW Niklas Sundstrom didn't dress... A capacity crowd of 21,273 turned out for Super Bowl Sunday's matinee showdown with the Flyers, marking the Canadiens 25th consecutive sellout of the season and 48th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04, including the playoffs... The Canadiens five-goal margin of victory marks the most lopsided win over the Flyers since a 7-1 win over Philadelphia at the Forum on Mar. 4, 1978... The Flyers were also without newly acquired C Peter Nedved (groin)...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com