FFR2 Round 1, Game 1: MTL 1, PHI 2 - Too Beezy
Game one is done, and boy was it fun!
For the first time in the Stanley Cup playoffs since April 20, 2018, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 2-1 over the Montreal Canadiens, taking a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in a tight-checking and intense matchup.
While you're all still catching your breath from the final five minutes (never a doubt, right?), let's look over the first Flyers-Canadiens playoff game in a decade. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs, Montreal was also the eighth and last seed. The Flyers weren't much better (7th), but both Cinderellas arrived in the Eastern Conference Final in 2010, knowing their Disney-like run was four wins away from the Final, and one of them would certainly get there.
Rather than a close series, however, the Flyers blew the doors off the Habs. Michael Leighton recorded three shutouts and the Flyers cruised to a 5-game series win, the same result as their 2008 second round series against Montreal. Even though the Canadiens come into this series with a ton of momentum after upsetting the Penguins, the Flyers are even hotter and much better on paper, poised to win their first playoff series since 2012.
Then again, the Lightning were poised to win the Stanley Cup last year and look how that turned out. Thankfully, the 2019-20 Flyers already have more playoff wins than those Bolts, and they played well enough in Game 1 to maintain confidence moving forward in this series. Montreal played fine enough, but the Flyers were the better team in the 1st and 3rd periods, outshooting Montreal 31-28 overall. The Canadiens had more expected goals, but that's been typical for the Habs all season - their lack of high-end finishing talent came back to bite them on Wednesday night.
Because hockey is just a silly stupid sport where games can go five overtimes and you can set the league record for single-game saves and lose, the Flyers only weakness from the round-robin quickly became their strength. Halfway through the period, and with time winding down on another power-play, Ivan Provorov launched a point shot that NHL.com says tipped off Jake Voracek (welcome back, Jake!), past Carey Price and into the net. Cue Feel the Shake and start your living room cellies because the Flyers have a lead in the playoffs!
The rest of the first period was actually the typical Flyers second period, if you think about it. The Flyers played pretty good but gave up a couple of good chances, all of which were stopped by Carter Hart. The forecheck was solid, all four lines were buzzing, and though the score stayed 1-0 heading into intermission, the Flyers didn't really have any reasons to complain.
Wait a second, if the Flyers first period played out like their seconds usually do, does that mean the second period-oh my gosh, can you just get the puck out? The Flyers had probably their worst shift of 2020 about three minutes into the period, being absolutely hemmed in to their own zone mostly by the Tatar-Suzuki-Gallagher line, as Montreal was so in control they were able to change without the Flyers ever clearing. Gallagher had the best chance, a bank shot that miraculously didn't ramp off Hart's back and in. Even though the Flyers got out of dodge then, Montreal dominance was the name of the game in the second. The Habs absolutely controlled the second period, to the tune of a 17-7 shots advantage and generating 61.18% of the 5-on-5 expected goals.
But it was all for naught. The Flyers second-line was poised to stay red hot, and they broke in across the Montreal line with eight minutes left in the period meaning business. Travis Konecny and Hayes had their second 2-on-1 of the night (Hayes kinda killed the first one by holding the puck for too long). TK's pass was a little out of Hayes' reach, but he curled the puck back in front for Laughton with the WHOLE ENTIRE NET to shoot at. It was the exact same play that resulted in their first tally against Washington, and this time it resulted in a goa...
He's the best goalie in the world. Give him the Hart. Give him the Vezina. Give him MY SOUL, who cares what the numbers say. Carey Price just made the best save I've ever seen, doing the thing shown above that I don't even have the words to describe. It's Braden Holtby's "The Save" combined with Jimmy Howard diving back to rob one of the Sedin's on that empty-netter a few years ago, and I can't stop thinking about it. What a save. Holy sh--wow.
Though Carter Hart made a slick 2-on-1 save after Niskanen got burnt in the neutral zone a few moments later, there was just no way that wasn't going to result in the scales tipping even further in Montreal's favor. A holding penalty to NAK was the straw that broke the camel's back, as Montreal's response to a power-play goal (originally credited to) the Flyers top defenseman was by doing literally the exact same thing. Montreal generated their twenty-seventh or so net-mouth scramble, only this time the puck kicked to an unmarked Shea Weber at the left circle. Even when he was an empty net, WOW that shot looks hard, and the Habs tie the score.
Well, they tied it for a New York minute. Just sixteen ticks later, first-line right winger (I don't which of those is more surprising), Joel Farabee deflected a Travis Sanheim point shot off Price's pad, then pounced on the rebound for the last goal of the game! Young Beezer with the veteran presence (TM) to go to the net and create some chaos, restoring the Flyers one-goal lead heading into the third.
Surprisingly, the Flyers were able to maintain their "we're gonna dominate the third period even though we're winning," basically giving the middle finger to score effects in the process. The third was the only period the Flyers generated more expected goals at 5-on-5 (58.15%), outshooting Montreal 13-6 And just few minutes before Price would leave the ice for an extra-attacker, the Flyers looked to put home the dagger. In a jumbled lines shift of Laughton-Thompson-Pitlick, Laughts curled out from behind the net with the puck, slipping it back door where Thompson was standing about a foot from the net with literally the whole thing to shoot at. Carey Price can't stop us now!
As my mom put it best, "Even I probably would have scored." So would most of the free world, mom. So would Morgan Frost. So would Connor Bunnaman. So would Michael Raffl. But not Nate Thompson. Unless Carey Price just became a Jedi and guided that puck wide with his eyes, I'm gonna call that a choke, and that's probably not even a strong enough word. I'm so sorry if you bet the over.
Carey Price continued to hold down the fort, standing his ground until the final two minutes when he started towards the bench (and was then forced to retreat twice because the Flyers forecheck is amazing). Any team is dangerous with the extra attacker, and knowing how the Flyers have turtled away these situations way too many times in the last few seasons, my heart was pounding.
Twenty-six seconds left. Nick Suzuki with the puck at the right circle. The young center, who I identified as one of the key players Montreal needs to maintain his success against Pittsburgh if the Habs will pull off another upset, pulled the puck back and fired. It was an absolutely perfect shot, using Ivan Provorov as a screen in addition to the Canadien parked in front of the net. Carter Hart never saw it coming.
Sometimes you get the bounces, and sometimes the bounces get you. The Hockey Gods made up for that Price wizardry and Thompson folly with a lucky bounce off the bar, as the Flyers one-goal lead missed turning into overtime by maybe three inches. I've always said that teams usually get one, and only one, great chance at 6-on-5 (unless you're Toronto), and if you don't make good on it, you're probably gonna lose. Suzuki and the Canadiens gave it their all, but they weren't able to find the equalizer, and the Flyers now lead a playoff series for the first time since the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Granted, the Flyers lost the next four games of that series and were promptly eliminated, not returning to the second round since. Game 1 is just one game, and it's important to remember that. However, it's reassuring that the Flyers were able to handle the plucky Canadiens, at least to start, looking better against Montreal than Pittsburgh ever did. In their first real stage of Cup contention, the Flyers looked like Cup contenders, and find themselves in the driver's seat of the series early as a result. Now, they try to hold their ground in Game 2. Same matchup. Same rink. Let's go!
Some interesting line-up choices for Alain Vigneault in this game. Voracek returned, but Farabee kept his spot on the first-line and played well (the Flyers first line was the only one that outshot Montreal). Jake was slotted in at third-line left-wing, which is an extremely rare position for Jake even though he's a left-handed shot. He played with Derek Grant and Aube-Kubel on line three. And Gostisbehere stayed in for Hagg, the first time #8 has been healthy scratched since January 4.
That may not last, as I didn't think Ghost had a great game, making some glaring mistakes in his own zone (though I liked his work on the power-play a bit better, and still hope he stays in over Hagg). However, the real issue on the Flyers back-end was Matt Niskanen. He hasn't been anything special in the bubble, but he was actively bad in Game 1, clearly losing some key foot races and puck battles, one of which led to a breakaway for Artturi Lehkonen. The Flyers need him back to regular season level ASAP.
Things got really chippy late in the 1st after Grant was pushed into Price by Xavier Ouellet while driving to the net on a partial break. The testiness continued after Hart made a nice close-range stop on Joel Armia with 0.4 seconds left. This is the kind of stuff we didn't really see in the round robin games, but with elimination on the line, it's back in full force.
Jake Voracek's goal breaks a 10-game drought in the playoffs (13 if you count the round robin), dating back to Game 2 of the Flyers first round series against the Capitals.
Speaking of slump-busting stars, Claude Giroux had a disappointing goose egg on the scoresheet in the round robin, but he's really close to breaking through. G hit the post on a nice passing play in the first, and looked really good overall, especially on the Flyers first power-play. Giroux's last two playoff series haven't been great (1 goal, 4 points in 12 games), but he showed evidence to the contrary on Wednesday.
This is the first time the Flyers have won four straight to start a playoff run (believe me, I think it's kinda stupid this counts, too). It's the sixth such occasion in franchise history the Flyers have done so, and the first since 1985 (6-0), per NHL PR.
Also per NHL PR, Joel Farabee is the first Flyer 20 or younger to score a playoff GWG since Simon Gagne in Game 1 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
I actually forgot to mention this originally, but it's too funny not to add in: the break of the game for the Flyers was Artturi Lehkonen falling down at random in the middle of a 2-on-0, resulting in Montreal never even attempting a shot. That should have tied the game, but instead it will wind up on the Not Top 10. Maybe that's the bad ice at work, but the Flyers actually told the media on Thursday they thought the ice was better Wednesday than during the round robin.
Some interesting storylines I didn't mention in that massive series preview: Alain Vigneault and Claude Julien coached against each other in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final (Julien's Bruins between Vigneault's Canucks in seven). Vigneault (1997-2000) and assistant Michel Therrien (2000-2003, 2013-2017) are both former Habs head coaches. And of course, how you forget the matchup between Carter Hart and his role-model Carey Price? It's a classic student vs. teacher matchup that should be intriguing to follow all series, especially if both goalies continue to play like they did in Game 1.
1st - Carter Hart (PHI) - .964 SV%, 1 GA on 3.14 xGA
2nd - Ivan Provorov (PHI) - Assist, Team-High 23:55 TOI
3rd - Jeff Petry (MTL) - Game-High 25:35 TOI, 66% Corsi
Game 2 - 8/14, 3 PM
*Advanced Stats via Naturalstattrick.com