Posted on April 29, 2008 12:12 AM | Permalink
PHILADELPHIA – If a blind man had walked into the bowels of the Wachovia Center on Monday night while the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers were talking in their respective rooms after Game 3 of their Eastern Confernece semifinal series, it would have been quite a chore to figure out who won and who lost.
In the Canadiens room, there was a certain degree of satisfaction, maybe even confidence in the knowledge that they have launched 70 shots on goal against Flyers goalie Martin Biron over the last two games, and allowed only 37 on their own net. They have used their speed to generate chances and draw penalties, and though the power play is not quite the fine-tuned machine it was in the regular season, it did produce two goals Monday.
“We’ve played two really good games the last two games and we’ve lost both,” Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said. “We’re not happy and we’re frustrated a little bit. We'll find ways, we just have to keep going. In the last half of the game they couldn't keep up with us. They only had 14 shots. We just have to keep going, it's going to be a long series.”
Over on the Flyers side, there was a lot of talk about how they need to improve, how they need to put more pucks on net, how they must stay out of the penalty box and play better defensively. There was some satisfaction over being ahead 2-1 in the series, but that happiness was almost always tempered with a “but.”
“I think we’re doing some good things, but we can be better,” said centre Mike Richards, who scored a shorthanded goal in an extreme case of generosity by Canadiens goalie Carey Price. “We’re still not hitting that gear we had against Washington or coming down the stretch, I don’t know what it is. Give Montreal credit, they’re playing really well. Their defence moves the puck extremely well. I think we have to be better to continue having success in this series.”
Essentially, both the Flyers and the Canadiens are clinging to the possibility (which used to be the probability) that Price cannot continue being as shaky as he has been thus far, and Carbonneau resisted the temptation to call his goalie out to the media. What is most telling about that is Carbonneau rarely held back in criticizing his netminder during the regular season, so it is entirely possible that even he senses a certain fragility in his rookie netminder.
“He’s 20 years old, we can’t forget about that,” said Carbonneau, who himself has forgotten that on several occasions this season. “We’re trying to ask this kid to be a saviour for this club. But again, we had a 5-on-3 for two minutes, we had five of our best players on the ice. Maybe we should blame them also. It’s a team game and we’re not going to blame just one guy. I’ll take some of the blame and the players will take some of the blame. But we’ve played well for two games now. We have to keep going.”
Carbonneau would not commit to starting Price in Game 4, but does he really have a choice? What would be the point of starting Jaroslav Halak, have him win a game, then be forced to start him again? That would further shake the confidence of an already shaken Price, and even if Halak did lead Montreal past Philadelphia to reach the conference final, does anyone really believe he could lead the Canadiens any further than that?
This is Price’s team, and this is Price’s playoffs. The Canadiens can’t afford to play mind games with their franchise goalie of the next decade. The Flyers, on the other hand, can feel free to engage in all the psychological warfare they like, and for now, they appear to be winning that battle.
“There were shots with screens and as soon as we get close to (Price), he is pushing everybody and you can tell he’s a little frustrated,” said Flyers centre Daniel Brière. “That is the only way to beat him. We know he is a good goalie so we have to keep going to the net. It is the only way we are going to beat him.”