MONTREAL - Peter Laviolette would have preferred having a well-rested team for a big test like the one the Philadelphia Flyers were faced with Wednesday night.
But ultimately, having his team travel after an emotional win over its biggest rival and still come out on top probably gave Laviolette a clearer picture of what the Flyers are all about -- and Laviolette likes what he sees.
James van Riemsdyk's second goal of the game was the game-winner as the Flyers squandered a two-goal lead but still held on to defeat the Montreal Canadiens 5-3 one night after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 at home to take over first place in the League standings.
"When you're playing the big teams, when you're playing Montreal or you're playing Pittsburgh, you want to play them fresh and give them everything you've got," Laviolette said. "We had an emotional, physical game last night, then traveled to get up here, and it was the second time we've done that. But I think sometimes good teams learn how to win in situations like that, and tonight, to me they made that case that they were willing to fight for it. It wasn't our best, but they were willing to fight for it."
Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter and Nikolay Zherdev also scored for the League-leading Flyers (21-7-5), who extended their winning streak to four games and have lost just once in regulation in their past 13 (9-1-3). They won this one in spite of losing defenseman Chris Pronger to a lower body injury for the whole third period.
Laviolette together a line of Carter, van Riemsdyk and Zherdev for the Pittsburgh game largely because he wanted to put Giroux with Mike Richards and Andreas Nodl to match up against Sidney Crosby.
But the result Wednesday was that Carter's line was probably the only one that gave Montreal consistent trouble all night, accounting for four goals and half of the Flyers' 30 shots in the game, with 13 shots coming from Carter and Van Riemsdyk alone.
"It was a good thing Carter's line was good, because our line wasn't very good tonight," Giroux said. "That was a team effort, but we've got to be better."
Sergei Bobrovsky made 38 saves after sitting out the past three games, and he was especially sharp as the Flyers were outshot 15-8 in the second period.
P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta scored for the Canadiens (18-10-2), who've lost three in a row for the first time this season. This loss was littered with careless turnovers and lapses in reason that nullified long stretches when they were dominant.
"I expect players to play within the system," a terse Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin said. "When we have good support, when we work, when we have five in the picture, we're very effective. When we don't, we're not."
Carey Price made 25 saves but did not have his strongest game in goal for Montreal -- it was the first time this season the young goalie allowed more than three goals in regulation time.
Van Riemsdyk continued his torrid pace over the past 12 games, scoring seven times after going without a goal over the first 21, while Giroux scored his 16th to match his output for all of last season.
"It was a good game for our line," Carter said. "We've been working on creating some chances the last few games but haven't been capitalizing on any, so it was nice to see (Van Riemsdyk) to get a few in. It wasn't one of our best efforts, but we'll take the two points and get out of here."
Subban was in the spotlight heading into the game over comments made by Richards a month ago that he needs to show a little more respect "or something might happen to him."
On the very first shift of the game, Subban leveled Flyers tough guy Daniel Carcillo, then turned down an invitation to fight him.
Subban had a major impact on the game for the Canadiens, in both a positive and negative way.
His turnovers led to the Flyers' first goal with 17.6 seconds left in the first period, and also to the one that iced it when his giveaway to Richards in his own end wound up on Giroux's stick to make it 5-3 at 15:28 of the third.
On the positive side, Subban also scored on the power play to cut a 2-0 deficit in half and made a heady pass to begin a rush that led to Gionta's game-tying goal midway through the third.
"If it wasn't for my goal and assist, that would be a very bad game," said Subban, who appeared almost embarrassed as he took his spin on the ice when he was named the game's third star. "I hung my partner out to dry too many times."
With the Flyers already up 2-1 in the third period, Zherdev took advantage of some largesse by Price when he banked his centering pass off the goalie's stick and into the net at 5:31 of the third.
But the Canadiens came roaring back to tie it on goals by Plekanec at 7:01 and Gionta at 9:55, only to watch the Flyers score two of their own in a span of just over a minute to put the game away.
"I don't think there was any panic, we were probably more irritated than anything else," Laviolette said. "When you have a lead like that you expect to and want to win a hockey game, but we gave it back. I think then you saw some experience come in and settled it down for us."
The Flyers got on the board with the clock winding down in the first period when Subban lofted an errant pass to Gionta that was picked off at the Flyers blue line by Matt Carle. He quickly fed a rushing Carter, who skated around Alexandre Picard and snuck a backhand past Price.
In spite of that potentially momentum sapping goal, the Canadiens clearly controlled the play in the second but still came out of it down 2-1.
Montreal had 32 shot attempts in the middle period, but only 15 of them were on the net, while the Flyers attempted only 11 shots in the second and hit the net eight times.
Philadelphia went up 2-0 at 2:33 of the second when van Riemsdyk's centering pass for Carter went off Hal Gill's skate, off Price's mask and into the net.
The Canadiens hardly ever left the Flyers end after that goal, but it took a 5-on-3 power play created by a needless roughing penalty by Braydon Coburn to solve Bobrovsky. Subban made up for his earlier gaffe by one-timing a Scott Gomez feed in for his second of the season at 18:09.