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Canadiens and Flyers begin Eastern Finals

by John Kreiser /


Season series : Not surprisingly for two teams that finished with the same number of points, the Canadiens and Flyers split their four regular-season meetings -- with each team winning once at home and once on the road. The Canadiens won the last one, shutting out the Flyers 1-0 in Philadelphia on April 2. The teams have met five times in the postseason, with Montreal winning three -- but the Flyers won the most recent matchup, upending the Canadiens in five games in the second round in 2008.

Big story: Ever wonder what it would be like if Cinderella had to play her twin sister for the right to go to the ball? It would probably look something like this series -- a matchup between two teams that by now were supposed to be golfing rather than playing hockey. The Canadiens shocked the hockey world by rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to beat top-seeded Washington, then went seven games to end Pittsburgh's dreams of a repeat championship. Yet they were upstaged by Philadelphia's historic comeback -- after a five-game upset of New Jersey in the opening round, the Flyers lost the first three games to Boston, won the next three, fell behind 3-0 on the road in Game 7 and rallied for a 4-3 win. This series will decide who gets to wear the glass slipper.

Team Scope:

Canadiens -- The best thing the Canadiens got after finishing their upset of the Penguins was a day off -- something they desperately needed after back-to-back seven-game series. Fans packed their practice facility on Friday as the team went back to work after taking Thursday off. But after spending two series with little expected of them, how will the Canadiens fare in a series in which they're not the prohibitive underdog?.

"I think the dynamic changes for a lot of people around the series," forward Michael Cammalleri said. "And I think it probably changes as far as the mentality of the opponent. But for us, it has to stay the same.

"We've had some success because we've been a hard-working group that has played together and relied upon one another. That's the only way we're going to have more success. So nothing changes for us that way. Will it be a challenge to keep that focus? I don't know. Only time will tell. But we do know that we have to play that way."

Flyers -- As was the case for the Canadiens after round one, the Flyers will have just one day off between series -- giving them little time to celebrate perhaps the greatest comeback in NHL history.

Then again, what's a little fatigue when you weren't supposed to be playing any more.

"If we believe in ourselves and keep going with this, who knows what can happen?" said Scott Hartnell, who scored Philadelphia's second goal in Game 7 on Friday night.

One consideration for the Flyers will be the play of goaltender Michael Leighton, who missed nearly two months with a high ankle sprain, then stepped in when Brian Boucher went down in Game 5 against Boston and won Games 6 and 7 -- his first two career Stanley Cup Playoff starts. If Leighton struggles, the Flyers have no viable alternative.

Who's hot -- Cammalleri had 7 goals against the Penguins and leads all players in this year's playoffs with 12 -- the most by a Canadien since Guy Lafleur in 1975. Jaroslav Halak leads all goaltenders with a .933 save percentage. … Simon Gagne, who returned in Game 4 against Boston after missing time with a broken toe that required surgery, had the OT winner in the fourth game and the series-winner in Game 7. Danny Briere had 5 goals and 5 assists against Boston in the second round.

Injury report -- Montreal was without its top defenseman, Andrei Markov, after he went down with a knee injury in the opening minutes of Game 1 against Pittsburgh. … The Flyers will be without forwards Jeff Carter (broken foot) and Ian Laperriere (brain contusion) and goaltenders Ray Emery (hip surgery) and Brian Boucher (knee) for the series.

Stat pack -- The Canadiens have won despite spending a lot of time in their own zone. Not only has Jaroslav Halak made 420 saves -- the most of any goaltender in the playoffs -- but the Canadiens have blocked 320 shots in the first two rounds, an average of nearly 23 per game. Hal Gill leads all players with 54 blocks; defense partner Josh Gorges is next with 44. … Montreal is 5-0 when Halak makes 35 or more saves; 0-5 when he stops 31 or fewer shots.

Puck drop -- The Flyers are in the odd situation of having the home-ice edge in this series after opening on the road in the previous two rounds -- that's what happens when the seventh and eighth seeds meet in a conference final for the first time ever. The Flyers will have to find a way to get to Halak, while the Canadiens' smallish forwards will have to find holes in the Flyers' jumbo-sized defense. Both teams are coming off emotional upset victories, so a key factor will be which team deals with increased expectations now that the stakes have been raised.

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