FFR2 Round 1, Game 3: PHI 1, MTL 0 - Hart Attacek
Anything Carey can do, Carter can do better!
By the skin of their teeth, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 1-0, over the Montreal Canadiens, with a 3rd-period turtle that Dave Hakstol might even be proud of (ok, it wasn't that bad). The Flyers scored a goal in the first five minutes of the game, and then Carter Hart (and the Flyers defense, kinda, but mostly Carter Hart) shut the door the rest of the way.
Shutouts are the hardest type of game to write about by design. The easiest thing to write about is goals, and this is the first 1-0 game the Flyers have played since January 11, a regulation loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. At least that game had 51 shots; not a ton, but fairly average. This game? Just 43, as both sides played to a stalemate full of poke checks and useless power-plays (a combined 0-for-9).
The Flyers had every reason to show up swinging in this game. Montreal suffered a tough loss in head coach Claude Julien to heart problems before Game 2 (thankfully, he appears to be doing ok), and clearly came out playing for him, scoring 62 seconds in and winning a 5-0 rout. For the Flyers, their motivation came in the form of an addition, with a familiar face returning to the practice ice for the first time since his cancer diagnosis in December.
The Flyers came out Oskar strong in the first period, outshooting the Canadiens 8-5 and drawing two penalties, including a double-minor (though Montreal had a couple quality looks in the very early going). However, their crowning moment came at even strength. The Flyers ran a set play off a face-off win, with Robert Hagg (welcome back, Bobby) pushing the puck to Giroux at the left boards. Jake Voracek went to the net, and G's shot hit that slippery snake in front, tipping the puck off his knee and into the far corner of the net! After a rough start to the series for the top line, Voracek's return sparked the Flyers stars, as they would hold on that one goal lead for, let's say a while.
So here's the thing about the final 40 minutes of the game. Nobody scored, although there were plenty of close calls. Montreal struck iron four or five times in this contest, including twice in ten seconds (the Flyers did once). A couple egregious giveaways by Scott Laughton turned into A+ Montreal scoring chances, but Carter Hart recovered to stop both. Carey Price played pretty good too; his .963 save percentage in the playoffs is straight up other-worldly.
The Flyers power-play had six cracks, but was unable to even come close to dealing damage to the Habs' PK; their last three power-plays combined for zero shots. Overall, the man advantage is just 1-for-25 in the playoffs, an embarrassing 4%. I hate Mike Milbury as much as the next guy, but he is right that the Flyers have to change something with their man advantage. For the third straight playoff series, it's becoming a serious liability.
Philadelphia certainly wasn't taking it to the Canadiens like they have to so many teams this season. Part of that is Montreal is playing really good hockey right now. They're a feisty team with a lot of hot players and really good forward depth; each line in their top-nine is pretty even on paper, affording zero breaks to their opposition. With how Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are playing, combined with how well Philip Danault always plays, Montreal looks really good down the middle, and they've got plenty of quality wingers (Tatar, Drouin, Gallagher) as well.
However, when the dust settled, the Flyers came away with a slight advantage in 5-on-5 Expected Goals. Montreal had the edge in Corsi, but if the Flyers actually edged out the Habs in Fenwick, which is the same as Corsi except it excludes blocked shots (PHI Corsi: 43.04%, Fenwick: 51.79%). The Flyers spent more than their fair share of time in the defensive zone, but didn't let the Canadiens get a ton of quality chances on goal. Montreal tallied just three 5-on-5 high-danger scoring chances, and none in the make-or-break third period. Blocking twenty-four shots isn't something you want to be banking for on a reliable basis, but for one game, it's an admirable marker of the Flyers' effort and defensive commitment.
This game didn't really feel like it had a first, second, and third period - just a beginning and an ending. The flow of the game never really changed; if you showed someone the final 55 minutes of this game without letting them see the scoreboard, they almost certainly would've thought the game was tied until the Canadiens pulled Price in the final two minutes. It wasn't very fast paced, which probably helps the Flyers more than it hurts them; Montreal's speed is very underrated. Granted, that usually makes for a much more boring game, but I'll take a 1-0 win over a 5-4 loss any day.
The Canadiens gave Flyers fans some nervous final seconds, with Kotkaniemi escaping for a mini-breakaway that Hart shut down in the final 50 seconds. But the Habs never broke through, and so the Flyers find themselves in the power position of this series once again. A win on Tuesday afternoon puts them firmly in the driver's seat and one win away from their first series win in eight years. A loss evens the series, guarantees Game 6, and puts the team on their heels heading into a quick turnaround, with Games 4 and 5 being a back-to-back.
The scary thing about this series is the Flyers haven't played anywhere close to their full potential yet. That's scary because if the Flyers do wake up, they may be able to handle the Canadiens easily. But it's also scary because if the Flyers haven't reached top gear after three whole games, it becomes a question whether they'll be able to reach it at all in this series, or in these playoffs (and if they don't, those two could very well be the same thing).
I don't think anyone in the fanbase is absolutely, over the moon thrilled with tonight's win. But it is still a win, still far more thrilling than defeat. In the playoffs, it really isn't about the how, it's about the how many. And right now, when it comes to beating the Canadiens, the Flyers are halfway there.
The Flyers unsurprisingly made line changes before this game, and the changes themselves weren't very surprising. Robert Hagg replaced Shayne Gostisbehere on the 3rd pairing next to Braun, and I thought he played a solid game. Michael Raffl also returned to the lineup for the first time since August 2nd. Joel Farabee was the odd-man out, a tad surprising since he's played well so far in the series, but AV really loves his Nate Thompson.
The more things change, the more they stay the same with the Flyers playoff power-play. Here's some names and numbers for you:
2016 - Coach: Joey Mullen; PP1: Simmonds-Giroux-Schenn, Gostisbehere-Voracek; PP2: Raffl-Gagner-White, Read-Streit
Result: 1/24 (4.2%, 15th/16)
2018 - Coach: Kris Knoblauch; PP1: Giroux-Couturier-Patrick, Gostisbehere-Voracek; PP2: Lindblom-Simmonds-Konecny, Provorov-Sanheim
Result: 2/21 (9.5%, 15th/16)
2020 - Coach: Michel Therrien; PP1: Konecny-Giroux-Couturier, Provorov-Voracek; PP2: JVR-Hayes-NAK, Sanheim-Niskanen
Result: 1/25 (4%, 24th/24)
Overall, with three different coaches, in three different years, with six different groups of players, the Flyers are a mind numbingly 4/70 (5.7%) on the power-play. Something's gotta give.
The first big scoring chance of the game was a transition deflection at point-blank range by big Habs defenseman Brett Kulak. It was a sign of things to come, as Montreal's defense was particularly active in jumping into the play all night. Xavier Ouellet had a good chance early in the second,
I've always heard a lot about Jesperi Kotkaniemi's two-way play, and while it's very good, it might be overshadowing his wrist shot. The former 3rd overall pick snapped two wicked wristers off iron tonight, the first from pretty long range. This kid will be, and already is, a problem for teams to handle. Much like Pierre Luc-Dubois in 2016, I think the Habs reached for a center and came out with a great one.
One encouraging sign for the Flyers was they took Montreal's top pair to task in Game 3. The Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber pair has been about break even from a play-driving standpoint in these playoffs. However, they posted an uninspiring 36.84% Corsi and straight-up ugly 12.29% Expected Goals at 5-on-5 on Sunday. The Flyers top line had no problems handling Montreal's best defenders.
Carter, I love you, but please stop playing the puck. Hart made a good read to field a Montreal dump-in shy of the icing line, but made up for it in a bad way by flicking it over the glass for a delay of game, leading to a seven second Habs 5-on-3. It's definitely the biggest weakness of his game.
At 22 years and 3 days old, Carter Hart becomes the youngest goalie in Flyers history to record a shutout. And he does it on his idol Carey Price's birthday! Believe it or not, it's "only" Hart's second career shutout, his first since his 24-save gem against the Devils in the home-opener on October 9.
1st - Jakub Voracek (PHI) - Goal (2), 68.75% Corsi, 91.85% xGF
2nd - Ivan Provorov (PHI) - Game-High 26:44 TOI, 1 SOG, 1 Block
3rd - Shea Weber (MTL) - Team-High 25:58 TOI, 2 SOG, 1 Hit, 1 Block
Game 4 - 8/18, 3 PM
*Advanced Stats via Naturalstattrick.com