Saku Koivu and the Montreal Canadiens need to score sooner rather than later. ((Tom Mihalek/Associated Press))

Scoring goals, especially early in games, is becoming a bigger issue for the Montreal Canadiens than who plays in goal.

The top-ranked Canadiens trail the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal after giving up the first goal in every game.

"We can play better," Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau said. "But a couple of weeks ago, we were up 3-1 and Boston took it to a seventh game, so it can be done.

"I'm not crazy, I'm realistic. As a coach, I have got to be optimistic [and] I would not be this optimistic if we were playing bad."

Montreal has outshot Philadelphia by a wide margin and held a significant territorial advantage, but the Flyers have taken 2-0, 2-0, 3-0 and 2-0 leads in the first four games of the series.

"We're being tested right now," Canadiens captain Saku Koivu said. "We cannot feel sorry for ourselves and try to make excuses for every situation."

"It has been a weird series so far," said Flyers forward Daniel Briere, the leading point-getter in the playoffs with 14 (eight goals, six assists).

"But at the same time, we have said all along we cannot worry about the other team. We have to worry about us."

Carbonneau tried to spark the team by starting reserve goaltender Jaroslav Halak in Game 4 instead of struggling rookie Carey Price, who surrendered 10 goals on 68 shots in the first three games.

"Price is not hurt — his finger, his hand, his shoulder, his knee — he has no injuries," Carbonneau, said. "Right now, his confidence is hurt a little."

Carbonneau reasoned that replacing him with Halak would shore up the back end enough to open things up at the front end.

But Halak fared no better — or worse — than Price as Montreal outshot the opportunistic Flyers 38-26 and lost 4-2 on Briere's power-play goal at 16:22 of the third period and R.J. Umberger's empty-netter with two seconds remaining.

"He was good," Carbonneau said of Halak. "Obviously, not good enough."

Steve Begin's needless interference penalty, which led to Briere's winning goal, certainly didn't help.

Nor did Montreal's sputtering power play, which went 0-4. 

"You have to have that killer instinct this time of the year," Umberger said.

One win to advance

The Flyers travel to Montreal mindful that a victory in Game 5 on Saturday (CBC, 7 p.m. ET) will propel them into the conference finals for the first time in four years.

Likewise, they know what it is like to squander a 3-1 lead, which they did in the opening round before eliminating the Washington Capitals on Joffrey Lupul's overtime winner in the seventh and deciding game.

"We cannot expect it to be easy," Umberger said. "I think we learned that the first series.

"Their backs are against the wall and they're going to come out hard. We might have eased up on our last time, 3-1 against Washington."

"We know the last win will be the toughest," Briere noted. "I'm expecting Montreal to play with a lot more urgency, a little bit like Washington did to us in Games 5, 6 and 7."

Key to clinching will be Flyers netminder Martin Biron, who has limited the NHL's top offence — the Canadiens scored a league-high 262 regular-season goals — to 10 goals on 142 shots.

"Biron has been on top of his game," Carbonneau said. "Whether he is lucky or extremely good, he is making the saves and that is part of the hockey game.

"We have been able to pierce him in the third period. But we have to find a way to do it in the first and second period, early, so we can get that confidence back."

Simply put, the Canadiens need to score sooner rather than later.

With files from the Canadian Press