The Habs might’ve kicked it in though and given themselves new life.
After a win in Game 4 the Flyers were up 3-1 and looking like they would cruise comfortably to the 2nd round. A win in Game 5 a little more than 24 hours after their previous victory seemed more like an inevitability. All thoughts of this foregone conclusion were dashed when the Canadiens scored a shorthanded goal less than three minutes into the game.
Brett Kulak broke the puck out to Xaiver Ouellet, who fired the puck off the back boards. It bounced out in front instead of around, where Travis Sanheim had already turned to look for it. Joel Armia raced after it, jumping on loose puck ahead of a confused Sanheim and flatfooted Matt Niskanen. A one time snap shot was able to sneak under Carter Hart’s glove. It was far from the ideal start, but tale of the game was far from over.
The 2nd period would start off well for the Flyers. Travis Sanheim got bounced off the boards late and in the numbers. While that isn’t good, he was patched up with some skin glue and the Flyers were granted a 5-minute powerplay, which would not end even if they scored. Jesperi Kotkaniemi took the major for boarding and was expelled from the game. On the ensuing powerplay, Jake Voracek bounced two pucks off Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot to jump the Flyers back into the lead 2-1. One came off a fantastic pass from Giroux, which Jake teed up for a one-timer that grazed Chiarot’s stick and beat Carey Price. The next was an attempted slot pass which bounced off Chiarot’s skate before it could get to a waiting Couturier. Giroux and Provorov got helpers on the first goal, and Giroux again on the 2nd, with the 2nd assist going to Couturier.
That was the good. The bad came in Joel Armia’s 2nd goal to tie the game. After a Kulak pass, he carried the puck into the zone and held it to the outside as he worked his way towards the corner. At the bottom of the circles, he threw a weak, sharp angle shot towards the net. Hart, already down in his butterfly saw the puck hit on top of his shoulder pads and roll into the net. He also endured a flyby from Nick Suzuki who patted his head. That incident should’ve been handled at that moment but no Flyers reacted. Soon after that, the ugly began. Phil Myers cross-checked a Hab he had trapped against the crossbar three times. The first two were in the chest and ones you could ignore. The third was right in the chops, bloodying his opponent. That lead to a double minor, and almost an immediate goal from Brendan Gallagher, who impressively batted in a saucer pass from Suzuki. Jonathan Druin also had an assist on the play.
Suzuki came within inches of a goal himself, as he beat Hart with a shot and it looked like Elliot was coming into a 4-2 to wake the team up and stop the bleeding. Then Alain Vigneault challenged the play. On the tape, the play was clearly offsides and the Flyers were only down one, and confusingly Hart went back in net.
The third period was a back and forth affair and one in which the Canadiens kept putting the Flyers back on the power play. The Flyers made them pay for it halfway through the period. A Kevin Hayes breakaway attempt was thwarted thanks to Jeff Petry tripping him, and the Flyers resumed the attack. Couturier got set up behind the net and slipped the puck to Jake Voracek on the half wall. He got the angle and fired the puck at Joel Farabee’s (Side note, stop calling him Beezer, it’s been used) stick who redirected the puck into the net beating Carey Price and tying the game. Three power-play goals is a revalation considering the Flyers unit’s struggle as of late. The energy would be demolished 22 seconds later as Alain Vigneault made a very rare mistake.
The Flyers had “home ice” for Game 5 and therefor last change. Generally his 4th line of Nate Thompson centering Tyler Pitlick and Connor Bunnaman had done well with shutting down the Canadiens’ skilled players. This however was not the time to continue rolling that dice. With the Canadiens facing elimination and having shown an incredible level of fight in this game, it should’ve been clear they were going to fire out. They did, and Jonathan Druin picking off a pass from Nate Thompson after Joel Armia used his speed and strength to pressure him. With Robert Hagg caught changing directions, and Justin Braun chasing the puck, Armia hit a wide open Suzuki who moved around a diving Hart and scored. This one wouldn’t come off the board.
Philip Danault would provide an empty net icer late in the game with an assist from Artturi Lehkonen. The game was fast and physical. There was a major and game misconduct for boarding, two separate four-minute double minors for high sticking, and a scrum nearly ever stoppage. Brendan Gallagher never stopped chirping, even after Niskanen mauled him in the corner and left him with a busted lip and bloody teeth. Other than the Myers cross-check only one player looked like he lost it. Surprisingly, it was usually reserved Couturier. After Danault’s empty-net goal, Couturier threw his shoulder right into an unsuspecting Lehkonen well after the whistle. A scrum ensued with penalties going to Couturier, Shea Weber who jumped in and got a few shots, and Voracek who literally jumped on Weber to try and contain a man who is basically a bear on skates. All 3 received misconduct penalties and hit the showers early. A mere 17 seconds later more punches and shoves were exchanged, more out of obligation than anything else. Robert Hagg took a few shots to the face and reinforced the idea that his head may in fact be made of steel, as he seemed unfazed.
Overall the game was a high for the Flyers powerplay. but a low for them in terms of defense, goaltending, and intelligent play. Myers penalty directly resulted in a goal, and Couturier’s offense was blatant enough that it may warrant a second look from the league. The 1st goal saw a vet in Niskanen caught sleeping and Sanheim not locating a puck and guessing where it was going and getting beat. The shot was from a dangerous spot in the slot, but one that Carter Hart typically would have. The 2nd goal as well was a bad one. If the Flyers advance to the next round and are faced with a back to back situation there will be serious thought to having Elliot play, probably based on fatigue.
Another situation to watch is that Travis Konecny has gone totally cold and seems to be out of AV’s go-to rotation. With just one assist in the series (from Tuesday’s game) he found himself replaced on the top power-play by Joel Farabee and not on the ice in the Flyers last-ditch empty net attempt to tie the game.
The Flyers are still ahead 3-2 in the series, but no longer seem to be on solid ground. They are on their heels and will need an incredible effort Friday night at 7pm to put away their pesky French Canadian foes.