Flyers defeat Halak, Canadiens in Game 4
The problem between the pipes for the Montreal Canadiens isn't so much Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak, but rather Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Martin Biron.
Biron kicked out 36 shots as the Flyers defeated the Canadiens 4-2 in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
"When things are going good, people want to give you flowers," Biron said. "When things are going bad, heads up — the vase is coming."
"Marty deserves a lot of credit," Flyers head coach John Stevens said. "He set a standard of play that he is consistently able to achieve.
"He is playing at such a high level that he can be the difference in a hockey game. He was the difference again tonight."
Daniel Briere's power-play goal broke a 2-2 deadlock with 3:38 remaining and R.J. Umberger completed the scoring with an empty-netter, his second goal of the game and sixth in the series.
"The puck is just bouncing right and the team is working hard right now," Umberger told CBC Sports.
Briere buried a loose puck at the right post behind Canadiens netminder Jaroslav Halak to put Philadelphia ahead 3-2, capitalizing on an interference penalty to Canadiens defenceman Steve Begin.
Begin was whistled for a late hit on Sami Kapanen, who barely missed being slammed through the open door of the Flyers bench.
"You look at the playoffs, the refs are calling it," Briere told CBC Sports.
"It doesn't matter what time of the game. They're not reffing the score, they're reffing the game."
Briere finished with two points and Scott Hartnell had the other goal as the sixth-seeded Flyers took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Tomas Plekanec and Saku Koivu scored 37 seconds apart and Halak faced 26 shots in a rare start for the top-ranked Canadiens, who will host Game 5 on Saturday (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).
"We have got two days to regroup," Koivu said.
"We have to go in there with a mindset that it is Game 7," said Briere, the leading point-getter in the playoffs with 14 (eight goals, six assists).
"This is far from over, we have to realize it. I know they're not going to quit."
The Flyers were bolstered by the return of Mike Knuble, who sustained a partially torn left hamstring in Game 5 of the conference quarter-final, won in seven games over the Washington Capitals.
Knuble earned an assist on Briere's winner.
Price not right
Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau opted to start Halak over Price, who struggled in the first three games following a sparkling effort in the opening round of the playoffs.
"You have to give him credit, he was good," Carbonneau said of Halak. "Obviously not good enough, but he is in a tough situation."
Carbonneau told CBC Sports that Price, a 20-year-old rookie, was "stunned" by the decision, but the Canadiens needed solid netminding in Game 4 after he gave up three goals on 12 shots in Monday's 3-2 setback.
Price has experience in pressure situations, having won a world championship with the Canadian junior team and a Calder Cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL.
He also blanked the Boston Bruins twice in the first round, including 5-0 in Game 7.
But he has played poorly in the conference semifinal, permitting 10 goals on 68 shots for a .853 save percentage in three starts compared to .920 in 41 games during the regular season.
"We had done our homework on Price," Briere said. "But when you see a new goalie, it is surprising."
Halak performed well, but he failed to steal a much-needed win for Montreal.
"I was just scrambling to get some information on this guy," Stevens said. "He is more of a reflex goalie, not as big."
Halak, Biron shineearly
Halak looked confident from the outset, foiling Jeff Carter on a breakaway with a splendid pad save six minutes into the contest.
But Biron was equally sharp, smothering Guillaume Latendresse's deflection from the slot on the return rush.
Halak later blocked a rising shot from Sami Kapanen on a two-on-one break to keep it scoreless through one period.
The Kostitsyn brothers combined on one of Montreal's better scoring chances in the second period as rookie Sergei Kostitsyn had a shot kicked away by Biron, and Andrei Kostitsyn fired the rebound wide of the left post.
Philadelphia opened the scoring in each of the first three games — taking 2-0, 2-0 and 3-0 leads — and Wednesday's showdown was no different as Umberger took a cross-ice pass from Briere and beat Halak with a shot from the faceoff circle 7:47 into the second.
"Danny made the pass across the ice and it is hard for goalies to go post to post, so I just tried to release the puck quickly," Umberger said.
Hartnell put the Flyers ahead 6:47 into the third, burying a rebound for his second after Vaclav Prospal's initial shot struck the left post behind Halak.
Montreal struck back when Plekanec tipped a weak shot from Josh Gorges past Biron for his third at 12:59.
Just 36 seconds later, Mark Streit's point shot banked off Flyers defenceman Randy Jones directly to Koivu, who swept the puck past Biron for the tying goal.
"Give them credit, they didn't go away," Stevens said. "But we got that power play late."
"We're being tested right now," Koivu said. "We cannot feel sorry for ourselves and try to make excuses for every situation."
Montreal began the series with a 9-1 mark in playoff games at Philadelphia, but they were held at the old Spectrum — not the Wachovia Center, which opened in 1996.
With files from the Canadian Press