NHL Playoffs, Flyers vs. Canadiens, Game 4: Philly throttles listless Montreal 3-0

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coburncanadiens.jpgWhen 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.

Hendricks to captain U.S. at Worlds for second straight year

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 01:  Matt Hendricks of USA celebrates goal of his team-mates during the IIHF World Championship group B match between USA and Finland at CEZ Arena on May 1, 2015 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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Last year, Matt Hendricks captained Team USA to bronze at the World Hockey Championships, marking just the second time in the last 11 years the U.S. had medaled.

So, why not go back to Hendricks again?

That’s what USA Hockey opted to do on Wednesday, announcing the Edmonton forward would reprise his role as team captain for the 2016 tournament, to be held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Columbus’ Nick Foligno and Arizona’s Connor Murphy were named alternate captains.

Hendricks had a pretty solid tournament for the U.S. last year, scoring two goals and three points in 10 games — an effort made more impressive by the fact it was his first time representing the U.S. internationally.

The U.S. gets its ’16 Worlds campaign underway on Friday, with a game against Canada at 11:30 a.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on NBCSN, and a live stream will be available on NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

Prized Flyers prospect Provorov says he’s NHL-ready

Ivan Provorov
AP
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Philly had one rookie defenseman burst onto the scene this year, as Shayne Gostisbehere‘s stellar play earned him a Calder Trophy nomination.

Next year, another freshman blueliner will look to make his own mark.

Ivan Provorov, the club’s first-round pick (seventh overall) at the 2015 draft, says he’s primed to make the Flyers’ roster for 2016-17 — despite the fact he’ll be just 19 years old when the campaign begins.

“I think I’m ready,” he said, per the Inquirer. “But we’ll see what happens. I think I’m going to have another good summer and come ready in September.”

The Flyers have been high on Provorov from the minute they drafted him. He signed his entry-level deal a week after being selected, and impressed onlookers during his time at prospect and training camps.

“He showed us his play is efficient in all areas with and without the puck,” head coach Dave Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “I thought his competitiveness was very good throughout the two days.

“He was focused and relaxed. He is a composed young man with maturity and confidence. Those are very good traits in a young player.”

This year, Provorov — who’s still playing with Brandon in the WHL playoffs — racked up a whopping 21 goals and 73 points in just 62 games. The potential of adding Provorov’s offensive abilities to a blueline that already features a pretty skilled guy in Gostisbehere is tantalizing.

But, as Flyers GM Ron Hextall points out, Provorov is going to have to beat out an incumbent, and won’t just be gifted a spot on the Philadelphia roster.

“They have to come in and be better than someone else that’s here,” Hextall said of young players looking to crack the lineup. “If that happens, we proved last year that we’ll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he’s ready to play at this level and make our team better.”

The Caps say they’ve ‘matured’ and have ‘good poise’ now — we’ll see tonight

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The Washington Capitals — desperate for a win tonight in Pittsburgh — are vowing to stick to the plan, keep their composure, and not let a certain 21-year-old netminder get into their heads.

“I think that’s where this team has matured,” said coach Barry Trotz, per CSN Washington. “We have good poise. You’ve seen that all year with our team. We don’t get rattled often. We do get, I would say, very determined at times and we’ve shown a lot of resiliency all year. That’s why we were able to have the record we did. We didn’t let things bother us too much. And we’ve got a good leadership group that when things maybe aren’t going the way you want, they seem to be able to put it back on the rails for us. I think that’s the growth of our team the last two years.”

In Game 3, the Caps had every reason to feel like the hockey gods were out to get them. They put 49 shots on Penguins goalie Matt Murray, but were only able to beat him twice. They lost, 3-2, and now must win tonight in order to avoid falling into a 3-1 series hole.

In Game 4, the Capitals will have a major advantage, as their opponents will be without two of their top defensemen, Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (injured).

So not only is it a game the Caps need to win, it’s a game they’ll be expected to win.

That means pressure.

And pressure, sometimes, can lead to panic.

According to Trotz, the Caps used to be guilty of exactly that. They’d change the plan when things didn’t go their way. They’d play too much as individuals. They’d play right into the opposition’s hands.

But not anymore.

“I think what this group has learned is that you stay to the plan, you execute and do the job well,” said Trotz.

“If you do that, it will turn your way.”

No hearings scheduled for Boyle on Hickey hit, or Hickey on Drouin hit

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Doesn’t look like there’ll be supplemental discipline coming from Tampa Bay’s crazy 5-4 OT win over the Isles at Barclays last night.

Per the Times, both Brian Boyle and Thomas Hickey have avoided hearings for their big hits — Boyle’s on Hickey, Hickey’s on Jonathan Drouin.

An NHL spokesman has confirmed to PHT that no hearings have been scheduled.

Both hits went unpenalized, but were focal points of Tuesday’s game.

The impact of the Hickey hit forced Drouin from the contest for a lengthy period of time, though Drouin did return to set up Nikita Kucherov‘s game-tying goal with under a minute remaining in regulation.

Boyle’s hit on Hickey was followed by Boyle scoring the game-winning OT goal roughly 10 seconds later.

It also led to Isles head coach Jack Capuano venting his frustrations in his postgame presser.

“It’s a direct shot to the head,” Capuano said, per ESPN. “I mean, probably going to get suspended a game. That’s what I mean. The whole game, it shouldn’t come down to that. [Referee] is standing right there. I’ve watched it numerous times now. Those are the types of hits that we’re trying to eliminate from our game.

“It’s just too bad that it had to end that way. It’s frustrating because it’s right there. The play is right there. He’s looking right at it. The league can look at it if they want, but I’ve watched it four or five times, maybe more, and it’s just frustrating it had to end in that particular way with a head shot.”

Capuano didn’t have an update on Hickey following the contest.

Game 4 of this series goes on Friday at Barclays, so there could still be developments forthcoming. The league holds the right to schedule a hearing later (should it be deemed appropriate), and there will likely be an update on Hickey in the coming days.

Related: Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal