After six pretty stressful games the Philadelphia Flyers finally closed out the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the playoffs on Friday night. It’s never going to be pretty when you win a series despite being outscored 13-11 but the Orange and Black survived to live another day, which is all that matters at this time of year. Before Game 1 of the next series against the New York Islanders starts on Monday let’s take a look at how the Flyers put away the Canadiens.
Ivan Provorov puts Philly on top 28 seconds in
The play starts with Kevin Hayes winning an offensive zone draw against Nick Suzuki back to Provorov at the left point.
The blue liner shuffled to his left before flinging a puck through traffic that Shea Weber decided to redirect past his own goalie to put Philly up 1-0 within the tilt’s first minute.
- Another dirty-but-good goal. Of the 11 goals the Flyers scored in their six games against Montreal nine of them beat Carey Price due to the disc being tipped or redirected in front of him. We knew not a lot of clean shots were going to beat Price (even Phil Myers’ leaky goal in Game 4 went off Brett Kulak’s stick on the way to the crease) and Philly was able to get enough greasy goals to close out the series. Provorov saw both Hayes and Konecny set up in front for net-front battles against Weber and Ben Chiarot respectively and decided to throw a shot on net in hopes of something like this happening.
- After the team benefitted from a play off an offensive zone faceoff for the lone goal in Game 3 the Orange and Black pulled it off again in Game 6. Instead of the wingers flipping sides after a win at the dot this time it was Joel Farabee streaking from the boards to the point to draw Suzuki out high and to get in Joel Armia’s way to keep him from stopping Provorov’s attempt.
- Nothing like Provorov’s first playoff goal coming thanks to a really good redirection by Weber.
Kevin Hayes doubles the lead
The Flyers are finishing up a power play when Shayne Gostisbehere carries the puck from deep in Philly’s zone into the Canadiens’ zone for an entry with possession. Gostisbehere flicks a cross-ice pass through six skaters to Hayes streaking into the zone.
The center sets up for a shot in the slot that he puts wide of the net. As the puck wraps around the right corner Gostisbehere is able to position himself behind Phillip Danault to take a hit from the Montreal forward but managed to nudge the puck up to Tyler Pitlick.
Pitlick saucered a pass over Jeff Petry’s stick to Derek Grant behind the net. Hayes is able to dart into an open space in the slot behind Arturri Lehkonen and in front of Chiarot to receive a pinpoint pass from Grant. With Pitlick able to set up in front Hayes throws the puck through the crease and puts one five-hole on Price to make it 2-0 just 5:23 into the affair.
- This is a good play to highlight why Gostisbehere’s confidence is such a key to his success on the ice. He’s had an up-and-down season where it’s difficult to gauge which Ghost is going to show up, but last night the d-man was evidently feeling it. The scoring sequence starts with Gostisbehere carrying the puck from the Flyers’ goal line and around a pair of Canadiens while the Flyers are changing before he opens up to the inside for a cross-ice pass through several players that would have led to a rush going the other way if it doesn’t find Hayes. When he’s on top of his game Gostisbehere is able to complete these risky plays with ease but when he’s off his game it’s easy to see how Ghost’s decision making could lead to problems. Not only did Gostisbehere get the puck into the zone and feed Hayes for a shot in the slot, he took a hit to extend the play in the corner which ultimately led to the goal. I don’t know why Danault decided to go for the hit rather than tie Gostisbehere up, but the defenseman still made a good play.
- The passing on this play was incredible. On top of Gostisbehere’s cross-ice dish to Hayes Grant completed a tape-to-tape pass from below the goal line across the slot that went around Weber and in front of Lehkonen to the towering Center as he cut across the slot. This was Grant’s only point against the Canadiens, as he struggled to produce or drive play throughout the series, but it played a big part in facilitating an important goal in an elimination game. Grant also played an important role in reminding Suzuki that the Canadiens just, uh, tapped out.
- Although this wasn’t a power-play goal for the Flyers, the work on the man advantage set up the tally. If Chiarot was a forward he may have been more focused on where to be high in the zone while Grant flung the puck from behind the net to Hayes in the slot. The Habs were scrambling leading up to the goal and the pressure from the end of the power play helped to cause that.
- What also set up the goal was Pitlick’s ability to get the puck around Petry in the right corner. Once Pitlick found Grant behind the net Petry was out of position and gave Grant an avenue to find a Flyer in front. If Petry had drifted back towards the net and not followed Pitlick below the goal line he and Weber would have been set up on the posts to add a layer of difficulty for a possible pass to the slot.
Suzuki gets one back for Montreal
With the Canadiens in the middle of a power play we’ll pick this play up after Petry slid the hunk of rubber to Suzuki at the top of the right circle. Suzuki dealt it to Jonathan Drouin in the right corner and the two swapped positions before Drouin handed the puck back to Suzuki below the goal line.
The 13th overall pick in the 2017 draft moves right-to-left behind the cage for a pass to Weber at the left point, who passed it back-and-forth with Petry for a second. Petry passed it to Drouin on the right wall, who faked a slap shot to freeze Provorov and Sean Couturier momentarily before he found Armia in the slot.
After he managed to sneak in behind Provorov and Justin Braun, Suzuki was hit by Armia’s shot and put home the rebound to make it a one-goal contest.
- The Canadiens found a soft spot in the Flyers’ coverage and exploited it. The passing between Weber and Petry high in the zone drew Couturier ever so slightly out of the penalty kill formation that Drouin took advantage of when he faked a slap shot to halt both Couturier (who had his attempt at a desperation poke check come up just short) and Provorov (who, expectedly, wasn’t quite in the range to take away a shot high in the slot) for an Armia shot in between the circles.
- The Flyers could have survived that minor blip if either Provorov or Justin Braun picked up on Suzuki sneaking to the front of the net. After he dished it to Weber back at the point, Suzuki managed to tiptoe his way from the left corner to the far post without resistance from either rearguard and isn’t checked until the puck was already over the goal line. Considering he moved past him to get to the front of the net and the play was happening on Provorov’s side I tend to lean towards pinning this one on Braun (surprise). Drouin’s slap pass makes Provorov look bad, but Couturier being a little higher in coverage didn’t help and Braun’s screen on Carter Hart for Armia’s shot after Suzuki snuck behind him only made matters worse.
- After they finished the season 11th with a penalty kill percentage of 81.8 the Flyers allowed five goals on 21 penalty kills for a conversion rate of 76.2 percent. A lot was made about the power play not converting at times to distance the Flyers in this series, but fewer power-play goals against would have helped as well. Montreal performed well in this series thanks to their ability to pressure Philly into mistakes with speed and an attention to detail. If the Canadiens tactically found those soft spots what do you think Barry Trotz and company are going to do?
Michael Raffl restores the multi-goal lead
The play started with a defensive zone draw that eventually resulted in Paul Byron bumping the puck to Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the neutral zone for an entry with possession at the left point. Kotkaniemi drives at Travis Sanheim and attempts to put the puck on his backhand to beat Sanheim to the outside, but the 2014 first-round selection knocked the biscuit free and nudged it back to the left point.
Byron angles himself to box out Hayes from the loose puck to allow Chiarot to fly into the zone to pick up the disc. Chiarot cuts from the right point towards the high slot but is unaware Raffl is charging in behind him to knock the puck free. Sanheim gets ahold of the hunk of rubber and immediately hits Raffl, who had turned up ice and was waiting for a pass on his backhand to start a 3-on-2 for Philly with Byron trailing Hayes in the neutral zone.
Raffl slid it over to Voracek at the Canadiens’ blue line before he drove through the middle of the ice to force Chiarot to follow him to the net. Byron recognized Chiarot and Raffl flying towards the net and attempted to cut back across the slot to break up any possible pass to a trailer. He failed to get into Voracek’s passing lane to Sanheim and the winger tossed the puck back to Sanheim floating into the zone for a shot from the high slot with Chiarot and Raffl battling at the side of the net. Sanheim’s shot hits Raffl in front and dribbles over the goal line.
- Sanheim and Raffl got rewarded for doing the majority of the work on this play. Sanheim’s poke check on Kotkaniemi and his quick pass up to Raffl flipped the ice to create the possibility for the team to score on a shot through traffic on the rush. Raffl hustled on the back check to help Philly gain possession, positioned himself well in the neutral zone for a quick and easy outlet pass from Sanheim, and he drove through the slot to create space for Sanheim with Chiarot and Byron trying to figure out coverage on the fly. With Matt Niskanen out Sanheim didn’t exactly drive play with Myers or Gostisbehere last night and was out there for Montreal’s second goal against, but he essentially started and finished this whole sequence.
- When Sanheim got the puck high in the slot he also had Hayes open cutting through the left circle. Thank god he decided to shoot and not pass.
Suzuki pots his second of the game
Claude Giroux wins a defensive zone draw, which leads to Scott Laughton flipping the puck to James van Riemsdyk in the neutral zone. The power forward tries to glove down the pass, but Drouin and Petry team up to grab possession for the Canadiens.
Montreal works the puck to the left side of the ice to Armia, who fires the puck around the left wall deep into Philly’s zone. Hart comes out to slow down Armia’s wrap and does, but this allows Drouin to beat Sanheim to the puck below the goal line.
Drouin then shrugs off Sanheim and cuts to the front of the net before he glides a cross-ice pass between Braun’s legs to a wide-open Suzuki for the tally from a sharp angle.
- After he made a nice series of plays on Raffl’s goal Sanheim didn’t look too hot on this one. Drouin is already gaining speed when Armia throws the puck deep, which allows him to beat Sanheim to the endboard. To make matters worse Sanheim had the opportunity to limit what the Canadiens could have done after he lost the puck race, but instead failed to pin Drouin to the boards which directly led to Suzuki’s second. Ideally the other d-man on the ice who has to cover a potential cross-ice pass actually drops to the ice to take away anything low, but the development of this play is more on Sanheim than Braun’s reaction.
- The marker wasn’t all Sanheim’s fault. Philadelphia did plenty on this play to give the Canadiens an opportunity to get back into the tilt. A turnover in the neutral zone that failed to get the puck deep, a lost race to the puck behind the net, Drouin’s ability to walk to the front of the net to complete a pass, and Suzuki wide open on the other side of the ice resulted in an easy one for the Habs. With Giroux tying up Armia in front and JVR in the right circle in support in case Sanheim got the puck below the goal line it looks as though Laughton was the forward lacking in coverage for Suzuki’s chance.
- Two days after they let Suzuki restore a Montreal lead 22 seconds after Farabee tied it in Game 5, the Flyers allowed Suzuki to make it a one-goal game 1:39 after Raffl put Philly two ahead of Montreal in the second period of Game 6. That’s back-to-back games where the club allowed a tally against immediately after they scored a pivotal goal in the game. It didn’t cost them against the Canadiens, but the Islanders can play a similar style and have proven this year alone they can do the same thing to the Flyers. New York is going to be a tough matchup for Philly and the least they can do is give themselves a chance by not handing goals to the Isles based on mistakes in the defensive zone.