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Habs grinders gain Carbonneau's confidence by producing chances

NHL.com @NHL

MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens are known for their speed and skill, but for Guy Carbonneau it's his grinders who have been at their best in the playoffs.

Tom Kostopoulos was the overtime hero in Game 1 after his linemates Bryan Smolinski and Steve Begin worked hard on the forecheck, and the goal was an example of what the Canadiens supposed checking line has been offering the coach on a regular basis.

"They've done it throughout the playoffs," said Carbonneau, who sent the Smolinski line out to start the overtime. "Their hard work has probably created the most scoring chances of all our four lines."

That's saying a lot on a team with weapons up front like Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu, Christopher Higgins, Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec, all of whom had at least 50 points in the regular season. Smolinski, Kostopoulos and Begin, meanwhile, had 46 regular season points combined.

That might be why Kostopoulos says there's a collective sense of gratification whenever his line is able to make it onto the scoresheet.

"When we score," he said, "it's almost like all three of us scored."

The Habs checking line hasn't necessarily lit it up in the playoffs, but it's produced goals when the team needed them. Through the first three games of the Canadiens first round series against the Bruins, the line combined for eight points - with Kostopoulos scoring twice - while Montreal's big guns had trouble getting into playoff mode.

Kostopoulos had a chance to be the overtime hero before in Game 3 against Boston, but he was robbed by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and the Canadiens eventually lost the game.

Kostopoulos didn't waste his chance Thursday night, whacking his own rebound past Flyers goalie Martin Biron to win it 48 seconds into the extra frame.

"After the chance I had in Boston, I was thinking about it all night," Kostopoulos said. "Luckily (Thursday) I had a second chance on (the overtime goal), or else I would have spent the whole night thinking of my first chance."

The Canadiens are not the only ones in this series getting contributions from unlikely sources.

The Flyers fourth line of Jim Dowd, Patrick Thoresen and superpest Steve Downie finished a collective plus-5 on the night, and all three players were in on Dowd's goal in the first period.

"I thought that line was terrific," Flyers coach John Stevens said.

The problem was that the Flyers' other lines were not quite so terrific.

Stevens spoke about the need for his speedy duo of Daniel Briere and Vaclav Prospal to get going again. The pair scorched the Capitals through the first five games of the series, with Prospal notching three goals and five assists and Briere getting five goals and four assists. But Prospal only has one assist in his last three games and Briere has a goal and an assist over the same span.

"I do think Danny is skating well and Vinny (Prospal) is a good complement to Danny," Stevens said. "I think Vinny just needs to start moving his feet again."

Briere said prior to Thursday's game that his chemistry with Prospal and Scott Hartnell led to his strong finish to the season.

Stevens had to shuffle his lines when Mike Knuble injured his hamstring in Game 5 of the Washington series, and he said Friday he may consider putting Hartnell back on Briere's right wing for Game 2 instead of Joffrey Lupul.

Philadelphia's loss Thursday also represented the third time this post-season the Flyers blew a two-goal lead and lost. Philadelphia was ahead 2-0 after one period only to have Montreal tie it before the end of the second. The Flyers also led 3-2 until Alex Kovalev's goal with 28.6 seconds remaining tied it.

In Game 1 of their first round series against the Washington Capitals, the Flyers led 4-2 after two periods only to lose 5-4, and in Game 6 the Flyers blew a 2-0 lead in the second period by allowing four unanswered goals by the Capitals in a 4-2 loss.

"I think they were all different, I don't think there are any tendencies in those three games," Stevens said. "But obviously when you get a lead, you want to keep it."

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