Whatever happens the rest of the way in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s certain R.J. Umberger
is having more fun this time around.
Umberger scored for the third straight game as the Flyers wrested the home-ice advantage from the Montreal Canadiens
with a 3-2 win in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Umberger, Scottie Upshall
and Mike Richards
scored for the Flyers, while Martin Biron
again was spectacular in goal, making 32 saves.
stopped just nine of 12 shots through two periods, and was pulled for the first time in the playoffs as coach Guy Carbonneau
opted to start the third period with Jaroslav Halak
Through three games, the Canadiens have outshot the Flyers 104-70, but it’s the Flyers who lead, 2-1.
A lot of the credit for that lead can go to Umberger, who has four goals in the first three games of the series.
It wasn’t all fun for Umberger. In the third period, he had to be helped off the ice after a hip-on-knee hit by Tomas Plekanec
left him with a charley horse in his left leg, and he was checked hard enough into the glass to smash part of the pane.
Still, his third straight strong showing puts his experience from 2006 farther and farther behind him – what little of it he can remember.
One of the lasting images of that playoff campaign is Umberger getting checked into semi-consciousness during overtime of his first NHL playoff game by Buffalo’s Brian Campbell
Umberger looked one way for the puck at his own blue line and never saw Campbell, who leveled him with a clean shoulder to the head. The blow broke Umberger’s nose and forced him to undergo offseason facial surgery. While the physical injuries were healed when the 2006-07 season began, the mental scars lasted far longer.
“It wasn’t feeling it in a physical standpoint, it was more mentally,” said Umberger. “I wasn’t myself. I was second-guessing myself on a lot of things, I wasn’t confident, wouldn’t let my instincts take over. I re-focused over the summer, I got stronger, got some mental exercises and really was excited to play this year. I was re-focused and re-energized and I think it’s paid off.”
After scoring a career-best 50 points in 74 games and playing a large role, he started the first-round series against Washington playing on the fourth-line – a clear message that more was expected if he wanted more ice time. Umberger, though, said he took the demotion as motivation.
“I felt like all year I had something to prove,” he said. “From the offseason on, I felt I had something to prove. Just work hard, just grind it out. I wanted a big role coming in to the playoffs, I worked hard and I wanted to have a good playoffs. I was a little disappointed at the start, but you just have to keep going and keep chugging, and have a good attitude and grind it out, and it’s going the right way right now.”
A case in point was his 4:54 of ice time on the penalty kill, the most among Flyers forwards, and the fact that he was on the ice in the game’s crucial last minute, when the Flyers were defending a one-goal lead.
“Umby is a guy having a great series,” said Flyers coach John Stevens. “He’s a guy we rely on in all situations.”
No situation was bigger than after Derian Hatcher was called for boarding at 5:17 of the third period, when he drove Francis Bouillon face-first into the boards behind the Flyers’ net. Hatcher was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
“Originally it was a two-minute penalty, but then he (the referee) looked over, saw a trickle of blood and he said you got five minutes,” said Hatcher. “It was a horrible feeling. Watching those 15 minutes that I wasn’t playing, that was a lot more exhausting than playing the game. Mentally, it was a lot more stressing.”
On the ensuing power play, the Canadiens, who had been just 7-for-47 with the extra man in the postseason – after leading the League at 24.1-percent efficiency during the regular season – scored twice.
First, Plekanec put in the rebound of a Guillaume Latendresse shot that was lying on the right post at 7:29 of the third. Moments later, Saku Koivu pulled the rebound of an Andrei Markov shot out of a pile in front and flipped it past Biron at 8:41.
After that, though, Biron stood tall, including on another Canadiens power play.
“Marty has been terrific,” said Stevens. “He has been our best player in this series. We probably felt going in that he would have to be.”
“He has been amazing, especially the past two games,” added Daniel Briere. “At the same time, we have to give credit to the guys killing penalties as well. Marty made some great saves, but he had a lot of help because we were probably killing penalties for half the game. That’s the way it seemed, anyway. Marty and the guys killing penalties were great tonight.”
Despite having just 12 shots through the first two periods, the Flyers led 3-0. Upshall started the scoring after a great end-to-end rush by Joffrey Lupul. Lupul left the puck for Upshall, who snapped a wrister past Price at 7:04 of the second period.
With Lasse Kukkonen off for holding the stick, Richards made it 2-0 when he sent a low shot that tipped off Price’s glove and trickled behind the Montreal netminder for a shorthanded goal at 15:12.
Umberger then scored his fifth of the playoffs at 18:19. Jeff Carter came from behind the net and put a shot off Price’s pads. The rebound went to Umberger in the high slot, and he rifled a shot past Price for the 3-0 lead.
“That goal was all board work down low with Cartsy (Carter) and I and Uppy (Upshall),” said Umberger. “Pound it in and pound it in and the puck comes out, just hard work.”
While the Flyers’ hard work led to goals, it didn’t work so well for the Canadiens, who outshot the Flyers 34-14.
|R.J. Umberger's fifth goal of the playoffs proved to be the game winner in the Flyers' 3-2 win over the Canadiens in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
They went 2-for-6 on the power play, but missed two prime opportunities in the first period.
Koivu had an early breakaway when he left the penalty box, but Biron made a rolling poke check. And with a two-minute 5-on-3 power play, Christopher Higgins had a chance at an open net, but Alex Kovalev’s pass jumped over his stick, and then Markov hit the post with a shot from the point.
“When you outshoot them 34-14, you’ve got to win the game,” said Higgins. “It was a tough game for Pricey and he didn’t really get a whole lot of shots on net, but on the other end you don’t know how much longer it’s going to go with the chances we’ve had. I thought in the third period it seemed like we were in their zone the whole time, and we had control of the play, but we couldn’t get enough pucks in the net.”
At the other end, Carbonneau remained non-committal on who his goaltender would be for Game 4 on Wednesday.
“Carey has proven in the past that he can bounce back and come back really strong,” said Carbonneau. “We will sit down tonight and tomorrow and see what is going to happen in the next game. I know he can come back and play really strong.”
Neither Price nor Halak was available after the game, but teammates said they were confident in either netminder.
“We know we have two great goalies and we dress both of them,” said Maxim Lapierre. “We know coming into the game they can change.”
Both teams agree that what also has to change is they need to play better.
“We played two really good games the last two games and we lost both games,” said Carbonneau. “We are not happy, we’re frustrated and all of that, but we will find ways, we’ve just got to keep going.”
“I have been saying this all along – we are capable of playing so much better,” said Stevens. “I know we don’t do anything the easy way. We had a 3-0 lead there. … Even the first few minutes of the five-minute power play, I felt that we did a great job of holding the blue line and getting pucks down the ice and rolling through, but now you let them back in the hockey game and they get you hemmed in down the stretch there. I would like to see us get the lead, keep the lead and pull away as opposed of making it that exciting.”
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.