FLYERS AT CANADIENS
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Big story - While this is not an elimination game for the Canadiens, it is the next-closest thing. Lose Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Bell Centre and Montreal will be facing a near insurmountable 3-0 hole against the Flyers. Yes, Montreal has already engineered comebacks from a 3-1 series deficit against Washington and a 3-2 hole against Pittsburgh in the last round. And, yes both of those teams were seeded higher than the No. 7 Flyers. But neither the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals nor the defending Cup champion Penguins ripped off six consecutive postseason wins this spring, which is the streak the Flyers are on at the moment.
Canadiens -- Montreal feels it played a far better game in Game 2, which has to be good news. The bad news is that all that additional effort still resulted in a 3-0 loss to the Flyers in Tuesday's Game 2.
The Canadiens have played 120 minutes of hockey in this series and have yet to score a goal against a Flyer team committed to giving an honest effort in its own end in front of red-hot goalie Michael Leighton.
But the Canadiens refuse to hit the panic button quite yet.
They believe the goals are going to come and that going home to what should be an incredibly loud Bell Centre will help to finally make the Flyers uncomfortable, which they clearly were not in the first two games.
At the Wachovia Centre, Philadelphia was able to dictate the game because it never trailed and owned a distinct advantage in special-teams play. Montreal knows it must change that equation in Game 3.
"It's easy to stay composed when you are winning," defenseman Hal Gill said. "We have to find a way to turn the tide and get some more scoring and we have to be more stingy defensively. Those things will make them more uncomfortable and we can take advantage of them that way."
How, exactly, will Montreal get more scoring chances against a team that has not allowed a goal in more than 8 periods, dating back to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals? Well, the Canadiens appear committed to getting their noses bloody if that is what it takes to finally unnerve Leighton.
"If it's one of those ugly ones - off a (rear end) or deflected off one of their guys; we'll take it," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "They usually aren't pretty in the playoffs. Occasionally, you get a nice goal; but it's usually throwing pucks at the net, traffic, he doesn't see it and it ricochets off a couple of bodies. That's playoff hockey. Those are the pretty goals in the playoffs."
Flyers - Everything has gone right for Philadelphia so far in this series.
The Flyers are receiving otherworldly goaltending from Leighton, who has not allowed a goal in 165 minutes and 50 seconds, dating back to the first period in Game 7 of the Boston series.
Their big guns are scoring -- Danny Briere and Simon Gagne have scored in both games. But they're also receiving depth scoring; seven players have accounted for the team's nine goals.
Philadelphia has been deadly on the power play, going 4-for-10 and scoring the game-winning goal in each game with the man advantage. On the penalty kill, Philadelphia is a perfect 8-for-8.
The Flyers have been so good, in fact, that even they are having trouble digesting the situation in which they find themselves.
"It would be hard to believe, to be honest," Briere said when asked what his reaction would be if the above scenario was spelled out beforehand.
But it is cold hard fact that the Flyers are in such a favorable position. And, they have earned it, according to captain Mike Richards.
"I think we are a defensive-minded team with, obviously, offensive capabilities," he said. "We take care of our own zone first and move up the ice. We put a lot of pressure.
"I think lately we have been throwing a lot at the net and we've gotten a couple of bounces here and there. I don't know the reason for the outburst, but it's definitely nice to have and it's at a good time."
Who's hot -- Briere has goals in five of his past six games and has 18 points in 11 games after opening the playoffs with a three-game drought. Gagne has been in the lineup for six games since returning from a broken big toe suffered in Round 1. He has six goals in those six games, including a power-play tally in Game 2. Center Claude Giroux has a goal and two assists in the two games, including a gorgeous backhand pass to Briere to set up the game-winner Tuesday night. But, nobody has been hotter than Leighton, who has stopped all 58 Montreal shots and has not allowed a goal in 165:50.
Injury report - As good as Philadelphia has been, it could be better as the walking wounded start to return to the lineup. Grinding forward Ian Laperriere has been cleared for contact after recovering from a brain contusion suffered in Round 1. He skated in Monday's practice, as well as Tuesday's morning skate. He is wearing a full cage, but there is optimism he could be back later in this series. Forward Jeff Carter has been out with a broken foot, but he, too, is making process. Carter skated by himself before Monday's practice, his first time on skates since the injury. He did not, however, skate Tuesday, which suggest he is not close to coming back. For Montreal, any last hope that Andrei Markov could make a dramatic return this postseason ended Wednesday when the team announced that the 31-year-old defenseman had surgery to repair the ACL in his right knee and he will be out six months.
Stat pack -- Leighton is 4-0 in his four playoff starts and has allowed just 4 goals in those starts. He is the first Flyers goalie since Bernie Parent to pitch back-to-back shutouts in one playoff year, and first NHL goalie with back-to-back shutouts in the postseason since Detroit's Chris Osgood turned that trick in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. … Philadelphia is the first team in NHL history to run off six consecutive wins after enduring a three-game losing streak in the same postseason. The Flyers own a 24-8 advantage in goals during their six-game winning streak and have scored at least one goal in all but one of the 18 periods played during the run. Philadelphia's 13 consecutive goals, dating back to the four unanswered goals in Game 7 against Boston, is a franchise record. … This postseason, Montreal is 5-0 in elimination games, but just 3-8 in non-elimination games.
Puck drop - The Flyers have experienced the perils of overconfidence firsthand in this postseason. In the previous round, Boston thought that it had the Flyers eliminated after taking a 3-0 series lead. But Philadelphia ripped off four-straight wins to become just the third team in NHL history to rally from an 0-3 deficit, so the Flyers know they will see Montreal's best game in Game 3.They insist they will be ready for it.
"You look at the two teams that are here right now, both teams know that that can go away quick," Briere said. "We came back. Montreal came back a couple times. They were down 3-1, 3-2 against very good teams before. So we're not going to sit back. We saw what we were able to do to Boston. So the worst thing we could do right now is sit back.
"The thing that I like is the fact that we all feel like we haven't played our best games yet, and we still have a lot to prove. So I think that's a positive that we still have more in the tank. You know, we want to prove we've been winning, but it's not just a fluke."