The Philadelphia Flyers didn’t have their best stuff Sunday night, but Carter Hart did, and ultimately that was enough. Hart pitched a shutout in a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, giving the Flyers a 2-1 series lead.
It was an important win for the Flyers, fresh off a humiliating 5-0 loss to the Habs in Game 2. A few noticeable bounces delivered the game for them, but that’s nothing new in the playoffs. Jakub Voracek’s right leg was the offensive hero, deflecting the puck past Carey Price 5:21 into the game.
To lean on an old adage, good teams find a way to win even when they don’t have their A game and the Flyers did that. Here’s a look at their Game 3 performance and what needs to change for Game 4 on Tuesday.
Hart Wins an Excellent Goalie Battle
These teams are built on strong goaltending and defense, so it was no surprise to see the series return to that style in the third game. The Flyers and Canadiens combined for only 43 shots on goal, and 42 of them were stopped. Price turned in a strong performance on his 33rd birthday. The puck only found the mesh once, and it was a fluke off of a low-percentage play by Claude Giroux.
That’s not to say Hart wasn’t beaten on this night. He got plenty of help from his posts and crossbar. The Habs pounded several shots off the iron, including Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brett Kulak who hit the crossbar on the same shift, shortly after Philly’s goal. Nick Suzuki also clanged one off the post on a shorthanded break in the second period. You’ve gotta be lucky to be good, or something like that.
We knew goaltending would be a factor in this series but it was a question of whether Hart could match Price, his favorite childhood goalie, save for save and neutralize that advantage for Montreal. He certainly did that in Game 3, becoming the youngest Flyers goalie ever to earn a playoff shutout. The two starters will continue to be the most impactful players on the ice.
Flyers’ Stars Still Struggling on Attack
Voracek scored his second goal of the playoffs, both off his leg, after Giroux threw a spin-away floater toward the net through traffic. On the whole, it was another unspectacular game offensively for the Flyers’ top forwards. Voracek managed four shots on net, but Giroux and Sean Couturier both had none. The crisp puck movement the Flyers are capable of just wasn’t there, as they struggled to get into a rhythm on the attack.
Philadelphia still doesn’t have a goal from Giroux, Couturier or Travis Konecny in six games this postseason, and you could see the frustration from Konecny on a needless cross-checking penalty in front of Price. Maybe they would if the opposing goalie wasn’t Price, but at some point, your top guys have to get the job done. The checking in this series isn’t going to get any looser, so that needs to happen sooner rather than later. The longer you let an underdog like the Canadiens hang around, the more their confidence will grow.
Maybe it’s time for head coach Alain Vigneault to shake up his top six. Perhaps split up Giroux and Couturier and give Konecny a shot with No. 14. Or maybe give James van Riemsdyk another chance to get involved – the $7 million man played less than 10 minutes in Game 3.
Pitiful Power Play for Philadelphia
The struggles of the Flyers’ top forwards go hand-in-hand with their atrocious play with the man advantage. They have the worst power play of all 24 teams in the return to play format, converting once in 25 chances for a four percent success rate.
That continued in Game 3. The Flyers were scoreless on six power plays, with only three shots. It doesn’t get more brutal than that. The Habs killed off a double-minor for high-sticking in the first period and Philadelphia managed zero shots on back-to-back opportunities in the third as Artturi Lehkonen almost tied the game on an odd-man rush the other way.
The Habs’ penalty kill deserves a lot of credit, but the Flyers will be hard-pressed to win this series if their power play continues to fire blanks. Their only saving grace is Montreal’s power play didn’t look good either on three chances.
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There are two ways to look at this game. The pessimist will say Philadelphia’s warts don’t bode well for the next game. The optimist will say the Flyers managed to win anyway and can still reach another level in Game 4, while the Canadiens probably can’t. Vigneault and his coaching staff are likely focusing on the latter heading into Tuesday’s game.