MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens became the third NHL team to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 11. They've been a different team ever since.
Two nights after losing 5-1 to the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Canadiens fell 7-3 to the goal-starved Philadelphia Flyers on Monday, leaving them vulnerable in the race for first place in the Northeast Division.
"Since we clinched the playoffs, our level of intensity, our level of concentration, our level of attention, the level of our work ethic have all fallen a great deal," an unhappy Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said, "and we've seen the results of that."
Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec said the team actually made a point of addressing this very phenomenon after clinching their berth in the playoffs with a 5-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres last Thursday.
But it's happening regardless.
"Since the night that we clinched the playoffs, that was the first thing we said to ourselves, that we can't stop playing," he said. "We need to keep playing [because] it's not like it's an off-and-on button that you're just going to take it easy until the end of the regular season, then all of a sudden you start playing well in the playoffs. It doesn't work that way. It was the first thing we said."
The Flyers (18-21-3) had scored three goals over the course of a four-game losing streak coming into the game, a goal total they needed just 21:02 to match against Carey Price and the Canadiens (26-11-5).
"It was good to score some goals," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We haven't scored a lot of goals lately, so to be able to throw some in the back of the net always helps your confidence. I think they worked for it too, they really put themselves in position to score goals by their work ethic."
Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek each had a goal and two assists and Scott Hartnell snapped an eight-game point drought with his seventh career hat trick for the Flyers, who are still an extreme longshot to make the playoffs.
"The effort was good right from the start," Laviolette said. "The guys were skating hard, working hard, played a smart game. We went to the box a little bit too much, but short of that it was complete."
Price had his second consecutive poor outing, getting pulled after allowing six goals on 29 shots in 40 minutes. After allowing three goals on four shots in Toronto on Saturday before being pulled, Price allowed the second and fifth shots he saw against Philadelphia to get past him.
In his past five starts dating back to a 5-3 loss in Philadelphia on April 3, Price is 1-4-0 with a 4.45 goals-against average and an .858 save percentage.
"I'm not here to talk about players because it's general. It's really general," Therrien said. "Everyone involved in tonight's game was not ready to play."
Montreal played its fourth game since defenseman Alexei Emelin was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee; the impact is starting to show, with a 1-3-0 mark and 15 goals allowed in the three losses. His regular defense partner Andrei Markov is a minus-6 in those four games.
"It's not easy to lose any player," Markov said. "We have to find a way to play without him and find a way to win the games."
Things will not be getting much easier for the Canadiens as they prepare to travel to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on Wednesday before returning home for a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning the next night, their final set of back to back games of the season.
Therrien pinpointed one way Montreal could get out of a funk that has seen the Canadiens lose six times in regulation in 12 games after losing just five in regulation over their first 30.
"It's pretty simple; it's a game of pride," he said. "You've got to come to the rink ready to play, and pay attention to detail and make sure you have the right attitude. That's exactly what we haven't been doing the past two games, with the results that we see. There's no work ethic out there right now, we don't pay attention to detail. It's disappointing."
The Canadiens observed a moment of silence prior to the game in memory of the victims of the explosions during the Boston Marathon earlier in the day. The tragic events in Boston resulted in the postponement of the game between the Ottawa Senators and Bruins scheduled at TD Garden, meaning the Bruins are still one point behind the Canadiens in the Northeast standings, but now hold a game in hand.
The Flyers defense, already ravaged by injuries, lost another member at 6:11 of the first period when Kent Huskins left the game with what the team announced was a concussion after taking a hit from Montreal forward Ryan White. White hit Huskins directly in the jaw with a glancing blow with his shoulder, sending Huskins to the dressing room under his own power.
White was immediately challenged by Flyers defenseman Kurtis Foster, and he was assessed a major penalty for a hit to the head, a major for fighting and a match penalty.
The Flyers' power play had gone six games and 16 straight chances without a goal, but they connected twice in six chances against a Canadiens penalty kill that had allowed two goals in opponents' previous 27 opportunities.
Rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher each scored for the Canadiens, while Max Pacioretty tallied his first goal in seven games.
With the game tied 2-2 in the second period, the Flyers erupted for four goals before the second intermission to take control of the game.
Voracek scored his 18th of the season to make it 3-2 at 1:02, just 24 seconds after the Canadiens had tied it 2-2. Hartnell followed with his first of the night at 7:30 of the second, one-timing a Giroux feed past Price low to the glove side.
Galchenyuk cut the Flyers lead to 4-3 at 9:11, but Giroux came right back at 10:46 when he converted a perfect Voracek feed to make it a two-goal game. Hartnell scored his second power-play goal of the game at 19:27 of the second, and completed his hat trick at 12:45 of the third by beating Peter Budaj with a one-timer from the slot to complete the scoring.
The Flyers got goals from Wayne Simmonds and Erik Gustafsson early in the first period to jump out to a quick 2-0 lead.
Simmonds came down the right wing and took a slap shot for Philadelphia's first shot of the game that Price kicked right back to him. Simmonds fanned on the rebound attempt, but it bounced in off Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu at 2:45.
Gustafsson took the Flyers' fifth shot at 5:49 from the high slot and saw it get through a crowd and squeeze through Price's pads.
Two cross-checking penalties assessed to Flyers defenseman Oliver Lauridsen drawn by Gallagher helped Montreal get back in the game.
Pacioretty got Montreal on the board with 57.2 seconds left in the first on a tip from the slot, and Lauridsen took another penalty 21 seconds later. This time, Gallagher converted on the power play 38 seconds into the middle period to make it 2-2.