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Flyers beat Canadiens for 10th straight home win

by Adam Kimelman

PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros has played eight straight games after being a healthy scratch 20 times in the team's first 37 games.

A knee injury to Erik Gustafsson got Meszaros back in the lineup on Dec. 23, and the way he's played since then Gustafsson's impending return might not be enough to knock Meszaros out of the lineup.

Meszaros assisted on all three Philadelphia goals as the Flyers beat the visiting Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on Wednesday.

Sean Couturier, Zac Rinaldo and Michael Raffl scored for the Flyers and goaltender Steve Mason made 19 saves to win for the eighth time in his past nine starts.

The win was the Flyers' 10th straight at home, their longest winning 11 in a row between Oct. 27, 2003 and Dec. 5, 2003.

Tomas Plekanec scored and goaltender Peter Budaj stopped 24 of 27 shots for the Canadiens, who lost 2-1 on Dec. 12 in their previous visit to Philadelphia. In an odd coincidence, the Flyers on Wednesday were playing their first home game after a six-game road trip, and were in the second half of a home-and-home, the exact same situation they were in when the Canadiens played in Philadelphia in December.

The Flyers took a 3-0 lead at 8:24 of the second period with Meszaros doing the majority of the work to set up the goal. He took a pass from Brayden Schenn and skated the puck hard down the left side in the Montreal zone, then cut to the middle to create a nice scoring chance. Budaj stopped his shot but the rebound pinballed around until Raffl found it and scored from in close.

The three-point game was Meszaros' first since March 1, 2012. It also served as a final audition for coach Craig Berube, because Gustafsson could return for the Flyers' next game, Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

However, Meszaros said he's focused on what's right in front of him, not something a few days away.

"I'm just going game by game and try to do my best out there," he said. "Try to help the offense as much as I can, be solid in the defensive zone. It's up to the coaches who's going to be in the lineup. Only thing I can control is play my best and we'll see what happens."

In the eight games since his return, Meszaros has five assists, nine shots on goal and a plus-5 rating while averaging more than 16 minutes per game. It's the longest stretch of games he's played this season between scratches.

"He's played good hockey," Berube said. "He's come in and played really well since [Gustafsson] went down. He had a real good game [Wednesday]. Overall he's improving all the time." When asked if Meszaros had done enough to stay in the lineup if Gustafsson is healthy, Berube said he "wasn't there yet."

Meszaros' big game also comes one day after he was named to the Slovakian Olympic team, another boost to his confidence.

"Obviously it's an honor to be selected," Meszaros said. "I'm looking forward to that. When you're there and you represent your country it's always a big thing. I'm obviously happy about that."

Meszaros' point shot 6:27 into the game helped the Flyers open the scoring. Vincent Lecavalier tipped Meszaros' shot off Budaj, who couldn't control the rebound in the crease. Couturier skated in alone and banged in the loose puck for his eighth goal of the season.

Philadelphia extended its lead to 2-0 at 14:39 of the first on Rinaldo's first goal of the season. Rinaldo fired a shot from the left side off the rush that deflected into the left corner. Douglas Murray got to the puck first but under pressure from Claude Giroux sent it back in front. Rinaldo got it on his backhand and slid a puck in front that went off the stick of Montreal forward Lars Eller and between Budaj's pads.

The goal was Rinaldo's first in 54 games, a streak that dated to March 7, 2013.

After Meszaros' goal the Canadiens got on the board late in the second on Plekanec's shorthanded goal. The Flyers were attempting to break out of their zone on a power play when Steve Downie fell at the Philadelphia blue line. Brian Gionta jumped on the loose puck to create a quick 2-on-1 with Plekanec. Gionta fed Plekanec on the left side of the Flyers' zone and he fired a wrist shot over Mason's right shoulder at 17:37.

The Flyers were playing their first home game after a six-game road trip and were in the second game of a back-to-back set that started with the Flyers beating the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday. Despite having fresher legs, the Canadiens generated five shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. Coach Michel Therrien left Budaj in until the final whistle, saying he felt there would be no advantage gained by lifting his goaltender for an extra attacker in the final minutes.

"In the third period we got [five] shots on net," Therrien said. "When you have momentum, when you're creating a lot of chances, there's a reason why you could take your goalie out, especially when you're down by two goals. But when you have [five] shots on net and you're down by two goals, there's no reason."

Gionta said his team didn't have the push it needed offensively, especially in the third period.

"They were effective for sure [but] we just didn't have enough push back at certain times," he said. "We had spurts of it, but a lot of times we had trouble coming through that neutral zone again. You've got to give them credit, but at the same time we just didn't find a way to get our feet moving through there and come up together."

Therrien also was unhappy with defenseman P.K. Subban, who took a roughing penalty during a scrum at the end of the second period. Subban played one shift totaling six seconds in first half of the third period.

"Didn't like the penalty," Therrien said. "Especially after a scrum -- 20 seconds after it. It's not a hockey play. Not happy."

After giving the Flyers a power play in the third, Montreal got a man-advantage opportunity when Lecavalier was called for hooking at 13:08. But the Flyers killed it off, as they did the Canadiens' three other power plays. It extended the Flyers' streak of successful penalty kills to 19 in a six-game span that started Dec. 30 against the Vancouver Canucks.

"[Assistant coach Ian] Laperriere handles the PK," Berube said. "He does a real good job of scouting the other team and taking away their options, taking away their strengths. I think that's the biggest thing. The players are doing a great job. Penalty killing is about everybody on the ice being more committed than the power play, blocking shots, clearing pucks, goalies making big saves, so they're all on the same page. They do a real good job."

As much good work as the Flyers did killing penalties, Therrien believes his team helped in the process.

"I believe our power play really hurt us," Therrien said. "It was a combination that we didn't execute well and they did a good job in taking away our momentum with their penalty kill."

The Canadiens don't have much time to dwell on what went wrong Wednesday. Their next game is Saturday at home against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

"You take what you can from it, you try to learn, but at the same time you've got to have a short memory," Gionta said. "You're coming up to play again in a couple of days. We've got a day off and then a practice. We've got to get prepared for Saturday."


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