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March 25, 2019
Second Round: Philadelphia vs Montreal
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
I had this one completely wrong. I picked the Canadiens in five. Missed it by that much.
The Flyers are a scrappy bunch. I figured they'd be emotionally and physically drained after their seven-game classic with Washington, leaving them easy pickings for the Habs. I was misinformed.
Philadelphia's triumph is all the more impressive due to the crushing defeat in Game One. The Flyers got whistled for a questionable penalty in the waning moment of regulation, allowing Alexei Kovalev to tie the score on the power play with just 29 seconds left. Tom Kostopoulos then won the game in the first minute of overtime, giving the Flyers a real kick to the ol' Charlie Browns.
Lesser teams would have crumbled. The Flyers didn't even flinch, tearing off four straight to humble the Habs.
After the ugly ending to Game One, Philly came out flying in Game Two, scoring twice in the first 8:39. And both goals were softer than Andruw Jones. Two more weak tallies would follow, and the Flyers evened the series with a 4-2 win.
R.J. Umberger kicked things off at 5:53 of the first period, cycling out high into the right wing circle and whipping a wrister behind Price. While it was a nice shot and all, Price has to make the save. Umberger was just throwing it on net. It was hardly a prime scoring chance. And it set the tone for the evening.
Jeff Carter made it 2-0 less than three minutes later, skating down right wing and piping a shot high short-side on Price from a bad angle. Young butterfly goalies drop on everything. It takes a few years before they realize going butterfly short-side opens the top corner. But that's the fun of starting a 20-year-old rookie netminder in the playoffs. Yippee!
Daniel Briere bagged the third goal, making a strong move to the net off right wing and pushing a weak shot towards the cage that somehow eluded Price and trickled across the line.
While the first three tallies were all terrible, it's the fourth one that came to define the series. With the Flyers leading 3-2 in the closing minutes of regulation, Scottie Upshall flipped a puck to the front of the cage, prompting Price to stride from his crease and attempt to snare the fluttering biscuit. Umberger chopped at the puck just as it was about to settle into Price's glove. Since he was playing the puck, Umberger's stickwork went unpunished and created a juicy rebound. The Flyer winger was the first to find it, popping it home before Price could recover.
It's tough to blame Price too much for the fluky goal. After all, he wasn't responsible for leaving Umberger buck naked in front. The kid had to try and catch the puck. If a Montreal defender had marked Umberger, it wouldn't have been an issue at all.
But after the first three goals, Price whiffing on the puck, even though he got whacked, certainly didn't help matters. It looked a lot worse than it was, though.
Unfortunately, perception is reality, especially in Montreal. The apparent miscue only increased the pressure on Price, eventually crushing his confidence. More bad goals would follow.
Umberger's chop of Price's glove in Game Two exemplified his intensity throughout the series. He simply outworked the Habs on the play. He did it again to score in Game Five, falling to the ice to put a shot on net. Price made the original save, but Umberger spun around as he was sliding past the cage and tipped the rebound behind the stunned netminder. It was real wizard.
While Price was imploding at one end of the ice, Martin Biron was standing on his head at the other. Any doubts regarding Biron's ability to be a No. 1 netminder were erased once and for all against Montreal, as the Quebec native posted a .921 save percentage while facing 35.3 shots per game. Goaltending was clearly the difference in the series. Price cracked. Biron didn't.
Scottie Upshall also deserves some ink. Not only did he play with passion all series long, his winning goal in Game Five was brilliant. Jeff Carter fired a shot towards the cage from out high in the slot that Upshall, positioned to the left of the net, bunted behind Price. Tom Berenger couldn't have done it any better. Up your butt, Jobu.
Either Gainey completely mangled the trade deadline, moving Huet before he had nailed down the Hossa-Hedberg trade, or he demonstrated foolhardy faith in his rookie goalie. Take your pick.
And the more I see Guy Carbonneau, the more convinced I am he has no business coaching an NHL team. He makes Michel Therrien look like Scotty Bowman. Carbonneau's a bit too high-strung for the gig. He's too emotional. His post-game comments are laughable, and not in a good way.
I have no problem with Carbonneau starting Jaroslav Halak in Game Four. And he was wise to go with Price in Game Five. But after Price got lit for two quick ones in the second period, both of the soft variety, it was rather apparent the kid was done. Carbonneau left him in there, and Price gave up a Scott Hartnell slapper just 1:16 later. Three terrible goals in a span of 2:58 gave the Flyers a 4-3 lead heading into the third. Price could hardly be blamed for the Upshall goal that decided the series, but the Habs could never relax in front of him. They played the entire rest of the game thinking every shot they allowed was going in the net.
Championship teams are built from the top down. Montreal's suits spoiled the series.