FFR2 Round 1, Game 5 - MTL 5, PHI 3 - Distraught
I'm too sad to come up with something clever.
The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 5-3, in Game 5 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs stay alive in the series with the win, spoiling the Flyers first bid since 2014 to advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This was by far the most entertaining game of the series. Games 1 through 4 combined for eleven goals (two on the power-play); Game 5 had eight (four on the power-play). There were line brawls, major penalties, a successful coach's challenge, and so much more. You could be excused for being a little bored (although happily bored) with how the first four games of the series played out. But this game was a clear signal this series is ON, and it is both exciting and terrifying.
Coming into this game, the Flyers had to be feeling a little bit of pressure, whereas Montreal had nothing to lose. That's the exact same way the Habs felt against the Penguins, and that turned out pretty great for them. You could tell from the second the puck dropped, the Canadiens were going harder than they had all series. Granted, that aggressiveness led to an early penalty, sending the Flyers to the... oh no.
The good news was there was actually a goal on the Flyers 1-for-28 power-play this time. The bad news is it didn't belong to the Flyers. Ben Chiarot angled a dump-in from center so perfectly it bounced off the back boards right to the slot. Joel Armia split the defense and picked up the loose puck, slipping it past Hart at point-blank range to give the Canadiens an early lead. In a series where the team that has scored first has won every game, that goal definitely qualified as the ultimate red-flag for the Flyers power-play and Carter Hart.
One of those things would struggle mightily the rest of the way, which doesn't sound too surprising until you realize the one that wouldn't is the Flyers power-play. But more on them later. The Flyers settled in shortly thereafter, playing a good but not great opening twenty minutes. When the dust settled at intermission, shots were 12-10 Flyers, both teams had killed off a few more penalties, and we appeared to be in the midst of another Hart-Price duel.
And then, the series had its turning point. Or so we thought. Less than two minutes into the second period, Travis Sanheim took the puck up boards and went to dump it in. At the last moment, Sanheim's back turned, putting him face-to-face with the boards right as Jesperi Kotkaniemi came flying in for a hit. Kotkaniemi blasted Sanheim right on the numbers, sending him into the glass in dangerous fashion. The referees immediately assessed a penalty, and after a video review (a new rule for 2019-20 I haven't actually seen in a Flyers game yet), they deemed the hit to be worthy of a five-minute major and game misconduct, ending the night for the Habs young center.
Granted, with how poorly the Flyers power-play had been performing, there were a lot of people probably expecting the Canadiens to get a huge momentum boost from killing off the whole thing. That plan was shot down in less than a minute, as Claude Giroux rifled a cross-ice pass that Jake Voracek one-timed off Ben Chiarot and in. Chiarot made up for that bad break by making a chest save on Joel Farabee's bid for a wide-open net. But with less than ten seconds remaining on the major, Voracek slipped lose again, cutting from the circle to the slot. Price lost his net, sliding down in an 80s style stack the pads look that couldn't stop the snake. Voracek buried his second of the night, putting the Flyers within 34 minutes of the second-round.
And then disaster struck. Remember that whole the Flyers power-play isn't gonna stink tonight? Turns out they transferred their ineffectiveness to Carter Hart. Just twelve seconds after the midpoint of the frame, Joel Armia took the puck wide and fired a wrist shot from outside the right dots. It looked innocent, but Hart went down into what's called reverse VH, leaving a sliver of space in the top corner. Armia's shot found it, becoming Hart's first bad goal of the series and equalizing the score at deuces wild.
Just moments later, the Flyers lack of discipline would come back to bite them. After Hart froze a puck at the front of the net, a standard shoving match happened in front of him. Well, it was standard until Phil Myers took it too far, catching rookie Jake Evans up-high. Adding insult to injury (literally), Myers drew blood, leading to the Flyers second double-minor of the night. The first one was cushioned by 1:20 of four-on-four time; this one had no kid gloves. And less than forty seconds in, Montreal E̶x̶p̶o̶ Canadien Brendan Gallagher baseballed in the go-ahead goal, swatting in a changeup from Nick Suzuki into the net.
Things went from bad to worse moments later, when Nick Suzuki broke across the Philadelphia blue-line and beat Hart with the simplest shot of all-time. It went right through Hart, with no screen (albeit maybe a slight deflection), and when the camera turned to Brian Elliott getting his gear on, no one was surprised. But then Alain Vigneault looked down at his monitor and saw something even more surprising: the play was off-side. Arrturi Lehkonen clearly beat the puck across the blue-line. And though that had little impact on the actual goal itself, Hart stayed in net after a brief chat with AV on the bench.
Hart came out stronger in the third period, making an early save on a bomb from Shea Weber. But he could make all the saves in the world at this point; the Flyers needed a goal. Sanheim had hit the post late in the second, and for a while it looked like that would be the closest the Flyers would come to a third goal. Voracek continued his beast of a game by drawing a tripping penalty a few minutes into the 3rd. No luck.
But then a shot block led to what looked like a breakaway for Kevin Hayes, his second of the game. The first time Price robbed him with the glove; this time, Hayes didn't get a shot away. Jeff Petry took him out on the back-check, and though a penalty was called, NBC announcer Brian Boucher and myself couldn't believe Hayes wasn't awarded a penalty shot.
So the Flyers mostly bad but maybe now actually good power-play went back to the ice. It seemed like the Armia shortie had woken them up; even though the Flyers had been stifled on their other three power-play attempts in the game, they were moving the puck around well and creating chances. Sean Couturier came up with a clutch face-off win. He got the puck to Voracek, who set up shop at the right boards. With the Habs' eyes on G on the far side, Coots at the net-front, and Provy at the point, Voracek took a look, and...wait a sec, did I just hear an album drop?
Because YOUNG BEEZY IT'S THE REMIX 2020 TIPS IT IN FROM THE SLOT AND WE ARE TIED!!! Getting his second look at the bumper role on PP1, Farabee finally buried one with a perfect redirection. With just 9:23 to play in the 3rd, overtime was suddenly looming.
One of the biggest criticisms of Dave Hakstol was that he so often would put the Flyers depth lines on the ice immediately after a goal, just trying not to give the goal right back instead of trying to score another one. It came to a height in game 80 of the 2017-18 season. The Flyers were hanging onto the last playoff spot in the East for dear life, playing an Islanders team already eliminated from the playoffs. Claude Giroux tied the game with 6:56 left, completing a comeback from 4-1 down. But then Hak put out a line centered by Jori Lehtera, and Mat Barzal scored the game-winner 29 seconds later with him, Matt Read, and Jordan Weal on the ice.
So imagine the horror, imagine the PTSD Flyers fan felt when Raffl, Thompson, Pitlick, Hagg, and Braun jumped over the ice. Sure, Thompson won the face-off and Braun got the puck deep. But that just lulled me into a false sense of security. Before I even finished listening to Feel the Shake, the Canadiens were back on the attack. Nate Thompson followed Armia in hunting down a loose puck in the corner. Fine. For some reason, Braun goes with him. Less fine.
Thompson tries to clear it around the board but doesn't get a lot on it, and Drouin cuts it off. Knowing Thompson and Braun are below the goal-line, Robert Hagg says, "three's a crowd!" and challenges Drouin, knowing there is NO ONE LEFT at the net-front! Nick Suzuki is left all alone in front, Braun can't bring him down, and a beautiful deke undresses Hart and leads to the game-winning goal.
The game ended with a cross-check to the face (more on that below), a Voracek penalty, some six-on-five offense for the Flyers, a Danault empty-netter, and a huge fight after. None of it really mattered, though. Suzuki's goal had the same effect Farabee's Game 1 goal had, only amplified by ten because of how much later it happened.
Game 5 did have some encouraging signs. The power-play looked much better. Based on his play in this series and this season, I feel confident in saying Hart's performance was a fluke due to being on the second half of a back-to-back. The Flyers proved they can score three whole goals on Carey Price (baby steps, folks). They're still one away. I don't think anyone expected Montreal to roll over and die after slaying the Pittsburgh Goliath.
David gave the Flyers a heck of a shot on Wednesday. In Game 6, the Flyers need to grab that slingshot and snap it over David's head. The Flyers have not lost consecutive games since January 4. Montreal gave the Flyers a heck of a punch Wednesday. But the Flyers are still standing. They better be ready to punch back. Do that, and the goal is accomplished, delayed but not dampened. Today is a beautiful day to win a playoff series. Let's do it, Flyers.
Of the four teams that played Wednesday with a 3-1 series lead, the Flyers were the only one that failed to advance. The Lightning, Bruins, and Avalanche joined Vegas (who kicked out Chicago on Tuesday) in punching their ticket to the second round Wednesday, eliminating the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Coyotes, respectively. Dallas and the New York Islanders are also off to round two, beating the Flames in six and Capitals in five on Thursday night.
The Flyers have gone twenty-nine straight playoff games without needing overtime, dating back to Game 4 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Devils.
This loss especially stings because the Flyers have been historically good at closing out series in this scenario. The franchise is 20-2 all-time, with fourteen of those wins coming in Game 5. The last time the Flyers blew a 3-1 series lead was Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, when Scott Stevens KO'd Eric Lindros in Game 7 in what would be the Big E's final game as a Flyer.
Philadelphia scored more power-play goals on the Kotkaniemi five-minute major than they did in their first 52:16 of power-play time in the entire playoffs.
Joel Farabee's third-period tally was his second of the series, making him the only Flyer not named Voracek to score multiple times. It's also his second career power-play goal, and first in the playoffs.
I think Kevin Hayes has been one of the best Flyers in this series. In every game, even Game 2, Hayes has been creating scoring chances. And he's been doing them in all situations; his first breakaway in Game 5 came short-handed. The points haven't been coming yet, but Hayes is starting to become awfully due; hopefully, the dam breaks in Game 6.
Brendan Gallagher was all over the ice in Game 5 after being benched for the final ten minutes of Game 4. In addition to scoring a huge goal, Gallagher was bloodied by a Matt Niskanen cross-check that went uncalled. Gallagher needed surgery for a fractured draw and is done for the series. Niskanen has been suspended one game, which means Shayne Gostisbehere is probably checking in. I would bet on AV playing Justin Braun with Provy (Braun is the only other Flyer who has played with him this year), but that's just my best guess.
If anything from Game 5 is going to carry over, it's what Nick Suzuki did. No, not the goal he scored that didn't count, or the goal he scored that did count, but what he did after Montreal's second goal. After Armia's shot went in, Suzuki gave Carter Hart a pat on the head, an unspoken, "thanks for the softie, pal!" You can't do that and expect to get away with it. Ask Brock Nelson of the Islanders how that worked against Carolina last year (although it worked for Danny Briere, but that was in a Game 7, so Ryan Miller and the Sabres didn't have much time for revenge). If that won't cause the Flyers to punch back in Game 6, I don't know what will.
1st - Joel Armia (MTL) - 2 Goals (2, 3)
2nd - Nick Suzuki (MTL) - Goal (2), Assist (3)
3rd - Jakub Voracek (PHI) - 2 Goals (3, 4), Assist (3)
Game 6 - 8/21, 7 PM