Prior to the start of tonight’s game, my ears told me something was very wrong. Lauren Hart – she of the normally pristine, spot-on National Anthem(s) voice – went sharp and flat regularly. In other words, she did not stay in tune particularly well. This probably registered with very few people, but given my penchant for sports-related magical thinking, I wondered if this somehow meant bad things for the Flyers. It could have had the reverse effect of "God Bless America" for all I knew.
Lord above, was I wrong.
Aside from the quality of the anthems, I could not help but wonder WHY Ilya Bryzgalov was starting AGAIN – this time against one of the last-place teams in the Eastern Conference. Bryz has been fantastic in March, but the guy needs a break. Perhaps Peter Laviolette decided that tonight was a chance for him to prove his clutchitude by winning the game which would make us all say "The Flyers are going to the playoffs!!!!" (As for said clutchitude? Mr. Universe clearly has it in spades, people.)
Yes, the Flyers started out the game decently for a change and even survived an early penalty to Sean Couturier. After making the Habs look foolish during the kill, it appeared as if the Flyers would take over. This did not happen, as Montreal took advantage of the Flyers’ aggressiveness. The Habs had a few scoring chances on odd-man rushes against, but Bryzgalov answered the bell to keep the game scoreless. Later in the period, the Flyers began to re-establish the forecheck and forced a slashing penalty to Tomas Plekanec. Six hockey seconds later, they had the lead on Kimmo Timonen’s 4th goal of the season. Claude Giroux, who won the faceoff cleanly, had the only assist. The rest of the first was fairly uneventful, save for the Flyers dodging a bullet on Pavel Kubina’s giveaway, which should have led to a goal for the ice-cold Rene Bourque.
Oh, Philadelphia had a very strong start to the second period all right, spending most of the first four minutes in Montreal’s end. However, the team got caught being too aggressive yet again, and Tomas Plekanec made them pay. Lars Eller sent a perfect pass to the streaking forward, who sneaked behind the defense and beat Bryzgalov on a breakaway to tie the game. Montreal controlled the flow after that by taking advantage of some sloppy play by the Flyers. Bryzgalov saved his teammates yet again by stopping a two-on-none Canadiens rush, and then by denying Plekanec on a shorthanded breakaway. Fortunately, the latter save seemed to awake the slumbering giant… a little giant perhaps, but a giant nevertheless.
For as soon as you could say "Paul Quits The Beatles," Danny Briere scored his first goal since the Bush Administration by redirecting Matt Carle’s power-play point shot and giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead. And just like Macca followed up McCartney with Ram, Briere had plenty more to give. Later in the period on another Flyer power play, Bryzgalov passed the puck up ice to Jaromir Jagr, who was waiting at the Montreal blue line. Jagr dished to Briere, who rifled the puck over Peter Budaj’s shoulder to extend the Philadelphia lead to 3-1. Between Briere’s two goals, the Flyers killed two other Montreal power plays, holding them to zero shots in the process.
For what it’s worth, I think Briere's Paul McCartney rejoined the Flyers’ Beatles because his long-lost John Lennon analogue (i.e., Christopher Pronger) was in the building with his family and
Brian Epstein Ed Snider.
Sentimentality aside, the third period started with additional offensive pressure from the Flyers and a fight between Pavel Kubina and Josh Gorges. The Flyers’ strategy appeared to be to establish a strong forecheck in Montreal's zone to wear the Habs out since they played at home on Friday night. This led Flyers getting caught up the ice several times and Montreal getting more scoring chances than they should have. Bryzgalov answered the bell time after time – even after he tripped a Montreal player to put the Flyers down two men with about eight minutes remaining in the third. Bryz (along with the Penalty-Killing Law Firm of Talbot, Couturier and Grossmann, LLP) denied the Habs on an extended five-on-three, keeping the Flyers’ two-goal lead intact. With just under two minutes remaining, Matt Read scored on a fine feed from Couturier, and the drama was over. At long last,
everyone in the building got a free breakfast sandwich the Flyers clinched a playoff spot.
Bryzgalov’s strong play was one of the main reasons the Flyers won tonight. Montreal did not have a ton of shots, but they had a number of quality chances due to numerous Flyer turnovers. Again, the Flyers were overly aggressive on the forecheck, especially in regards to defensemen pinching in the zone. It's safe to assume that Early-Season Bryzgalov would not have had the same results as he got tonight. Regression = Awesome.
I believe (based on my eyes only) that Jaromir Jagr and Zac Rinaldo had good games tonight. Remember that game a couple weeks ago when the Islanders made things interesting late, then Jagr went out and dominated, thus shifting the momentum back to Philadelphia? It seemed like he did that every time Montreal was controlling the play tonight. He might not have had any points to show for his effort, but his puck control was astounding and he generated several chances. For his part, Rinaldo laid a couple of solid checks (including one which eventually helped to spring Sean Couturier on a breakaway) and drew a penalty against P.K. Subban in the middle of the third. He was not as strong as Jagr, but he played the way the Flyers need him to.
The special teams were the difference. The Habs were zero-for-five on the power play with three shots, while the Flyers scored three power play goals on five opportunities. This is notable since Montreal entered the game as the league’s best penalty-killing team (92.2% efficacy) on the road.
Clinching a playoff spot is always fun, especially when you do it yourself - as opposed to clinching when you’re not even playing, as could have happened last night. Thanks for winning, Jets and Sabres!
Hockey Night In Canada’s broadcast team of Bob Cole and Garry Galley provided the commentary for my viewing experience. I only mention it because my feed allowed me to hear Bob Cole say things not intended for the general public's ears, such as "Awwww. This is boring hockey." But the best part of all? Cole is apparently the CBC’s answer to Steve Coates: "Kathy, you saved my life with that delivery of yours this morning. I’ve been hittin’ ‘em tonight." (The response from Garry Galley: "Eh, I’ll probably stay dry tonight." If only he played for Laviolette last year.)
!!! was/is a post-punk revival band (dance-punk) from New York by way of Sacramento. They provided the soundtrack for sweaty, coked-up hipsters everywhere in the mid-2000s. Apparently they still do today. If I have to explain why I mention them here, you need to re-read this recap.