When a strong team or a “favorite” tumbles, sports writers scatter the ashes for excuses. Could it be that the team lacked heart or intestinal fortitude or some other metaphorical body part? Did Star Player X fail to “show up”? No, maybe it’s just that Embattled Coach failed to make the proper adjustments.
Yet, in the case of a team such as the “16th ranked” Montreal Canadiens, their losses are often greeted with a shrugged shoulder. They should have lost, most will remark. To some extent, that’s true. Yet if the Habs won their two series with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals by “out-hustling” their opponents (instead of, say, depending on luck and the brilliance of Jaroslav Halak), then what do you say now?
How else do you explain a team with its back against the wall unleashing exactly one shot on goal in a second period in which the opposing team (the Philadelphia Flyers) launched 13 pucks at Halak and scored two goals? If you’re going to question the “character” of a team like the Boston Bruins after they squandered a series, then why not wonder the same about Montreal?
Philadelphia Flyers 3, Montreal Canadiens 0
Flyers lead series 3-1
Even now, it’s difficult to count the Habs out completely. After all, they came back from a 3-1 series hole against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals. The team and their sterling Slovakian puck stopper Halak are 5-0 in elimination games. You could compare the Canadiens to a villain in a slasher movie because it’s never safe to assume that they’re dead even if they are lying motionless on the ground.
That doesn’t change the fact that the Flyers took the game to them and the Habs didn’t even put up much of a fight. The first period was fairly even, with a few close calls including a play in which Hal Gill sprawled across his team’s crease to prevent a call. (The Flyers didn’t receive a penalty shot, which I thought was the correct call.)
The middle frame was the real horror show, as I mentioned before. Even the softest critics of the Canadiens would concede that being out-shot 13-1 is pathetic.
The third period was not much better, to be honest. The Flyers shot themselves in the foot twice to give the Habs some crucial powerplay opportunities, with Matt Carle taking a delay of game penalty and Aaron Asham committing a foolish goalie interference infringement. To stay consistent with the night’s theme, the Canadiens did nothing with either man advantage.
Halak kept them in the game, allowing 2 goals on 24 shots but only giving up markers when Ville Leino and Claude Giroux broke through the defense with partial breakaways. Michael Leighton must be able to relate to how J.S. Giguere felt against the Minnesota Wild in the 2002-03 playoffs, as he achieved his third shutout in this series while only having to make 17 saves.
For three out of the four games, Chris Pronger and Leighton were excellent. In those contests, the Canadiens scored exactly zero goals.
If there’s one word I’d used to describe the Habs in Game 4, it would be “tepid.” Actually, that’s being pretty kind. Home ice advantage is pretty useless if you don’t even show up to the game.