Flyers advance to Cup final after ousting Habs
P.K. Subban sat in one corner of the Montreal Canadiens dressing room with a bag of ice pressed against his swollen upper lip. As Brian Gionta talked to reporters, he rubbed his heavily taped left wrist.
There were other Canadiens bruised, bloodied and nursing ailments. But these wounds were not as visible as the disappointment in their faces, now that their fairytale run ended in frustration in the Eastern Conference final.
There were no more comebacks left in their game. The glass slipper was no longer the perfect fit. A 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center on Monday meant the Canadiens season was kaput.
The Flyers have moved on to the Stanley Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks. The series opens in the Windy City on Saturday evening (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET).
"Having beat the odds and surprising everyone felt good to get to this point. But to get this far and lose is still very disappointing," Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges said.
"I can't say enough about the players in this room. To see guys like Tommy Pyatt step up and play and contribute the way he did. To see Mike Cammalleri step up and score so many goals. [Canadiens goaltender] Jaro Halak was unbelievable and is the new hero in the city of Montreal. There are lots of guys who elevated their game to get this far."
Gorges was one of them.
Cammarlleri scored 13 goals. Halak was a wall in the victories over the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals and defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two rounds.
Pyatt, unable to perform in the East final finale because of a shoulder injury, was a solid secondary performer in the playoffs and should have a bright future in Montreal.
Flyers more patient team
But after their unforeseen wins over the Capitals and Penguins, the Canadiens ran into a team that played a similar counter-attack game in the Flyers. Philadelphia followed its game plan with better discipline and was the more patient team.
The Flyers scored first in three of their wins, a key in the counter-attack game because you get the opposition to open up and take risks. In the series finale, however, Montreal scored first but unraveled a few shifts later when on the power play.
Philadelphia's Mike Richards scored a short-handed goal when Halak couldn't get to a loose puck in time.
He collided with defenceman Roman Hamrlik and the puck squirted to a wide-open Richards, who was left uncovered by Montreal defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron.
The Habs blue-liner stopped skating on the play.
"They have a great team," said Brian Gionta, who scored Montreal's first goal. "You have to have a great team to get this far. They played well. But we hurt ourselves with the way we played in the first game and in Game 4. To throw away two games and get down in the series, it just was too difficult to change the outcome this time."
An opportunity ruined
The Flyers broke the game open with two-goal lead in the second period when Arron Asham and Jeff Carter scored.
Montreal's Scott Gomez made it close with a goal midway through the third period, his first since the post-season opener for the Canadiens.
The Habs had an excellent chance to pull even with when Philadelphia defenceman Chris Pronger high-sticked Subban for a double minor. But the Canadiens couldn't manage to score the tying goal, and instead, the man-advantage situation was cut short in the second two minutes when Montreal's Glen Metropolit took a tripping penalty.
The special teams did Montreal in throughout the series. The Canadiens scored only one power-play goal, a meaningless one to end their 5-1 win in Game 3. Meanwhile, the Flyers checked in with four man-advantage goals and a short-handed marker in the series.
"Special teams are a difference maker at this time of the year and our special teams let us down," Gionta said.
Agony of defeat evident
While most of the Canadiens conceded that they likely will look back fondly on their playoffs later in the summer, the agony of defeat was evident. Still, the upset wins in the first two rounds had the country excited and hopeful that they could continue their magical run and capture the first league title for a Canadian-based team since Montreal won in 1993.
"You start believing what you can be," said Cammalleri, in explaining the Canadiens' unlikely run. "I think it was a special year for a bunch of guys who played better at the right time of the year. Some special bonds were formed."
The Canadiens backed into the playoffs in their final game with an overtime loss, so not much was expected from the team in the post-season. The Flyers, on the other hand, also required a shootout victory in their final game against the New York Rangers to make the playoffs.
But most pre-season polls had the Flyers among the East favourites with the addition of Pronger, who will play in his third Stanley Cup final in five years with a third different team. They struggled in the regular season with chemistry, injuries and goaltending until waiver-wire pickup Michael Leighton came along. The unheralded goalie was sharp in the conference final with three shutouts.
"I think probably from the time we beat the Rangers in the shootout getting into the playoffs and understanding we have an opportunity," said Pronger, when asked what was the turning point that has pushed the Flyers to the final.
"You know, just getting in, it gives you that opportunity, and you've got to seize the moment and seize the opportunity.
And we've done that thus far.
"We've still got a big hurdle to go, but right from the first game in New Jersey, all the way through, we've always believed in the system and our players and what we're doing on the ice. It's just a matter of us getting into that rhythm and buying into the system.
"Guys blocking shots and doing all the little things. Sucking it up, and taking a punch to draw a penalty or whatever. The little things that make up a lot of the little battles during the course of the game to win the war. We've done a very good job thus far of that."
The Flyers won the only meeting against the Blackhawks in the regular season, a 3-2 thriller in Philadelphia on March 13.