Posted on May 1, 2008 12:06 AM | Permalink
PHILADELPHIA – Raise your hand if you saw this one coming.
No, not Guy Carbonneau’s gutsy decision to sit Carey Price in favour of Jaroslav Halak, who handled himself just fine and was definitely not the reason the Montreal Canadiens lost 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night to go down 3-1 in the series.
Rather, who couldn’t foresee the game unfolding the way it did after the Canadiens failed to take the lead in the first period after out-chancing and out-skating the Flyers for the first 20 minutes?
Carbonneau said afterwards that it will be difficult for him to prepare for Game 5 because, in his eyes, there’s nothing all that wrong with his team despite the fact it is on the brink of elimination.
“We just lost three games and I can’t sit there with the coaching staff and try to change things or the way we play tactically,” Carbonneau said. “We are playing great. We have scoring chances and we don’t give up too much, but we lost the game.”
Not only did the Canadiens lose the game, but they very well might have lost the series despite once again out-shooting the Flyers 38-26. Montreal has now out-shot the Flyers 108-63 over the last three games, but Philadelphia is ahead 11-6 in the statistic that really matters – goals.
But not only have the Canadiens racked up 108 shots in three games, what is even more mind-boggling is that they have missed the net 53 times in those three games, including 20 times in Game 4. No degree of coaching or preparation can remedy that, because what that suggests is the Canadiens are either being too fine in trying to beat Martin Biron or they are simply gripping their sticks a little too tight.
Flyers have blown 3-1 lead before
What makes it worse is that when the Canadiens manage to hit the net, they appear to be finding ways for the puck to hit Biron.
“A lot of the time,” said Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, once again Montreal’s best player on the night, “the puck is hitting him and he has no idea.”
That does not take away from the extraordinary series Biron is having against the Canadiens, a team he grew up hating growing up in the Quebec City area as a die-hard fan of the rival Nordiques. Biron has a scintillating .930 save percentage in the four games thus far, and he’s stopped 102 of the last 108 shots he’s faced.
Aside from Biron, the Flyers likely played their best game of the series Wednesday night, staying out of the penalty box and spending more time in the Montreal end than perhaps the two previous games combined.
It was an excellent effort, and for Flyers coach John Stevens he is getting the sense his young team is maturing before his very eyes.
“I think this team has got personality, it’s got character and the guys care for one another,” he said. “That can carry you far.”
Thus far, it has carried them to the cusp of the Eastern Conference final, which could very well wind up being an all-Pennsylvania affair if the Pittsburgh Penguins avoid the impossible and hold on to beat the New York Rangers. But the Flyers were very careful after the game not to get overly joyous, especially considering they needed a Game 7 overtime goal just to get to this round after leading the Washington Capitals 3-1 in the first round as well.
If anything, that’s perhaps what Carbonneau is clinging too when he espouses confidence in his team’s ability to come back and win three straight starting Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
“I am still really confident we can win this series,” he said. “It’s going to have to go one day at a time. We have two days now to recharge, but then after that it’s three games in four nights. I like our chances.”
Really, would you expect him to say anything else?