FFR2 Round 1, Game 4 - PHI 2, MTL 0 - Philing Good
We've got 'em on the (Bobby) brink!
The Philadelphia Flyers WIN shutout style for the second straight game, 2-0, over the Montreal Canadiens. In doing so, they take a stranglehold on their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, moving within one victory of eliminating Montreal and advancing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Once again, the Flyers turned in an impressive defensive effort, keeping the Canadiens off the scoreboard for over 130 minutes straight. The Flyers allowed less than two expected goals (1.66, to be exact), which is somehow more than they allowed in Game 3 (1.54). Sure, the Flyers aren't scoring very much either; the Habs had more expected goals than them in Game 4. However, the Flyers played an underrated defensive game on Sunday night, and a flat out great defensive game on Tuesday afternoon.
Philadelphia came out strong in Game 4, outshooting Montreal 10-7 (at one point, it was 10-4) and drawing the frame's only penalty. Before that unsuccessful power-play, the Flyers had already lit the lamp. The Flyers lines were all jumbled up today, so Sean Couturier made a drop pass to Michael Raffl inside the Montreal blue-line. Raffl walked in, saw just a little bit of daylight top shelf, and fired an absolute seed to the top left corner of the net. The Austrian Rocket with his second of the playoffs and first goal since coming back from injury, becoming just the third Flyer to score a goal in this series.
Montreal's best period of the afternoon was definitely the second, with a slight edge in Corsi and a bigger edge in Expected Goals. Carter Hart came up clutch, stopping all ten shots he faced, notably kicking a bomb from Jeff Petry off the post. As the game progressed, Hart continued to be sharp, stoning Philip Danault after a failed clear by Provy, then stopping Nick Suzuki at the front of the net in the last minute (he batted the next try off the post). That all came in the final minutes of the third, but even if one of those snuck past him, the Flyers would have had the lead.
We've yet to really see a bad goal in this series. Maybe you could count Joel Armia throwing a pass of Shayne Gostisbehere's skate into the net in Game 2, but that's more bad luck then anything. But with Montreal's barrage starting to subside in the final few minutes of the period, the Flyers struck. The Hayes line, now with Farabee instead of Laughton, created a ton of chances all game, so it wasn't a surprise to see them move the puck through the neutral zone to Phil Myers. He made a move to the outside, was forced further wide by Brett Kulak, and flipped the most innocent shot of the series towards Price.
Well, it started as the most innocent shot of the series. But then it nicked Kulak's stick, hopped off the ice, and bounced off the inside of Price's blocker and into the net! Collect your bets if you had Phil Myers for first Flyers defenseman to score a goal in the series, as he becomes the second Flyer to score their second of the playoffs, giving the Flyers a second to breath and a second goal to add to their lead.
In the second (wait a sec, I think my keyboard is stuck) third period, the Flyers once again took it to their opponent. In the playoffs, excluding Game 2 (when they were down by four), the Flyers have averaged a 1.67 goal lead heading into the third period. Score effects and conventional wisdom says they should be getting hemmed in a bit. Yet the Flyers have averaged a 52.9% Expected Goals For at 5-on-5. Their Corsi For is just barely under 50%, and if you exclude an outlier turtle against Tampa (14.28% Corsi, 8.24% xGF), and those numbers skyrocket. There's a difference between relying on defense and flat out turtling. The Flyers have done the former, and they've done it almost to perfection.
Usually a back-to-back stresses me out a little as a fan, especially during the playoffs, but I'm grateful for the quick turnover in this case. For the last few years, as you all know, the Flyers have been mediocre at best and a laughing stock at worst. They've signed a lot of awful contracts, hired a pretty bad coach and kept him for way too long, and have not advanced in the playoffs despite spending near the cap every year.
A lot of effort has gone into getting the Flyers this far. Four different general managers sculpted this team, with players acquired between June 2006 and February 2020. A lot has changed in the last twenty months, including the GM, coach, and some of the most important players on the ice. Chuck Fletcher, Alain Vigneault, Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and others have supplemented a strong core that has desperately been waiting for help over the last half decade. The future is here now, as the Flyers have truly emerged as one of the teams to beat in the East. Thirteen years after Jimmy Rollins successfully predicted that for the Phillies, it still holds true at the Wells Fargo Center (or Scotiabank Center, if you want to be technical).
Tomorrow night, the Flyers will have a chance to take a huge step forward as an organization. A victory accomplishes my goal for this season, the Hextall regime's for last year, and most importantly brings the Flyers one win closer to the reason they're in this bubble in the first place. Win tomorrow, and we walk together into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Habs won't go down without a fight, but the Flyers have proven they're more than willing to put up one.
It's the first time the Flyers have a chance to win a playoff series since 2014 against the Rangers. They came up one goal short of forcing overtime, being badly outplayed by a younger, clean-shaven Alain Vigneault, falling 2-1 despite a heroic effort from a recent injury recovered Steve Mason. It's the first time they've had an opportunity to win a playoff series without facing elimination since Game 6 against Pittsburgh in 2012, when Claude Giroux put himself into the conversation for best player in the world (though let's be honest, he probably never actually held the title).
It's the first time for a lot of things for a lot of this group. For most others, it's the first time in a long time. But it's our time. That's all that matters. Tomorrow, we go to go where no Flyers team has gone in 3,024 days.
Let's go Flyers.
This might just be a Carter Hart segment today, so let's get to it. First, Hart is the third goalie in Flyers history to record back-to-back playoff shutouts, the first since Michael Leighton in Games 1 & 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Final, also against the Canadiens.
Hart is the 5th goalie in NHL history to record back-to-back playoff shutouts at age 23 or younger. He's the first to do so since another guy who played in Toronto (only he actually played for the Maple Leafs): Felix Potvin, in 1994. He's the second youngest goalie ever to pull off the feat.
I'd say he's not this good, but who are we kidding, he's this good and then some.
Ok, that's enough Carter content for now (jk, there's no such thing). The power-play didn't score again today, but I actually thought they looked decent. Joel Farabee took over in the bumper role, but it was the other four guys creating most of the chances (Farabee had one good chance, but it was blocked). One thing the Flyers tried a lot was a bank pass behind the net from Giroux to Voracek, which seemed to work alright. At least they didn't keep beating the square peg into the round hole.
AV went full galaxy brain with the forward lines. No JVR and no NAK, with Farabee and Bunnaman returning to the lineup. Both played well, but I still wish JVR and Aube-Kubel were in the lineup. I thought NAK has had a fine playoffs thus far, picking up where he left off in March. As for van Riemsdyk, what do you expect a goal-scorer to do when his center is Derek Grant? I wish they'd make him the net-front presence on PP1; it's what he does best. I'd also wish he got a chance to play with Hayes and TK after Laughton's abysmal Game 3, but that's less of a gripe than the power-play usage.
Arpon Basu with this incredible nugget on Twitter: "Per NHL Stats and Information, the Flyers are the first team to lead a seven-game series after four games while scoring only five goals."
Rest in piece to former Flyer and Winnipeg Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk. The Hall-of-Famer passed away from cancer today at age 57. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.
With Game 5 being a back-to-back, there's at least a chance Brian Elliott gets the nod tomorrow. This is probably the only time I recommend going with the same goalie on both halves of a back-to-back. Hart is young, healthy, and hot. Ride the kid, and hopefully he makes Montreal ride off into the sunset.
1st - Carter Hart (PHI) - 29-Save Shutout (1.66 xGA)
2nd - Michael Raffl (PHI) - Goal (2), 56.31% xGF, 2 Hits, 2 Blocks
3rd - Nate Thompson (PHI) - 1 Hit, 3 Blocks, 60% Face-offs
Game 5 - 8/19, 8 PM