With their backs against the wall, the Montreal Canadiens entered Game 5 against the Philadelphia Flyers in a scoreless drought that lasted nearly 130 minutes. Although Carey Price was almost flawless, Montreal was lagging behind 3-1 in the series, and their shocking playoff streak seemed to be at an end.
Kirk Muller put the line mixer on overdrive on Tuesday to try to come up with some sort of combination to trigger the suddenly anemic offense. When the Habs took to the ice for their pre-game warm-up, a more familiar header line from Brendan Gallagher, Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar was reunited and, in a first offensive movement, Charles Hudon replaced Alex Belzile in the fourth. line. The Flyers kept their lineup after their winning streak, and between the pipes was Carey Price versus Carter Hart in what turned out to be an epic goalie battle.
The Canadians came out aggressively, trying to break through the Flyers’ defense early on, including Gallagher throwing himself on Ivan Provorov before challenging him to a fight. Then Ben Chiarot attempted to drive the net, but ended up taking a goalkeeper interference penalty.
The Flyers’ power play turned out to be exactly what the Montreal offense needed. Xavier Ouellet skated the puck, turning a dump-in into a difficult pass from the end boards. Joel Armia grabbed the Flyers sleeping and snuck in to grab the loose puck, and barged in alone on Carter Hart, hitting a shot in front of him to end Montreal’s goal drought and grab the opening goal Very important.
The physical tone of the game continued from there, with plenty of hits and probably lots of words exchanged between the teams. That physicality eventually caught up with Gallagher, as he was called up for Robert Hagg, which gave the Flyers another edge. That power play didn’t last long, as a minor double from Jakub Voracek gave Montreal a slightly extended advantage to work with.
To say the Canadiens’ power play was bad is to underestimate it, as the best chance for the man’s nearly three-minute advantage fell to Kevin Hayes. Hayes barged in alone on a bad pass from Max Domi, but again it was Price’s glove that denied the Philadelphia forward a goal.
Neither team really put in much effort heading into the final moments of the period, but a tripping penalty from Joel Farabee gave Montreal another power-play shot before the end. Naturally, the power play didn’t make much noise at the end of the first or the start of the second period, and the Habs kept their lead of one goal.
After the power play expired, Jesperi Kotkaniemi crashed into Travis Sanheim as he turned away from a dump-in, and for his problem he was awarded a major penalty, as well as a game foul. for causing visible injury. To rub salt in the injury, the Flyers’ power play finally scored, tying the game early in the second period. Grinding that salt even deeper, the Flyers added one more seconds before the major penalty ended, knocking the Canadians down by one goal and now without one of their best offensive weapons to come out of it.
Then it was Joel Armia’s world and the Flyers had to live there as the tall Finn landed a shot on the crossbar just after the Flyers’ power play ended. On her next shift, it was Armia again who found a way to get up in Kotkaniemi’s absence. He barged in from up close, then fired what looked like a harmless shot, but Hart, down to protect the back of the net, left a small gap that Armia slipped for an equalizer.
The penalty parade continued, this time for the Flyers, with Philippe Myers throwing a cross check in the face of Jake Evans. It didn’t take long for a resurgent Canadiens team to make them pay for their transgression. Nick Suzuki worked on the wall, netting and floating a saucer pass to Gallagher. The spirited forward’s check swing got just enough puck to grab him by a sprawling Hart and put Montreal back in the lead. Suzuki was even sure to pat Hart on the head as he passed, no doubt drawing the ire of the Flyers bench.
Suzuki went back there and added a fourth goal to get Hart out of the net. He exploded in the Flyers’ end, and snapped a single shot through Hart that drew Brian Elliott into the game. However, an offside challenge from Alain Vigneault caught up with Jonathan Drouin before the game, wiping out Suzuki’s goal and strangely giving Hart a reprieve as he returned to his enclosure.
Montreal didn’t let a knocked down goal slow them down. Their maksehift lines continued to rack up chances as the period neared, but another goal was not in the cards for the second period.
The third started out as a whirlwind of controlled chaos so to speak. The Canadians pushed early for a fourth goal and nearly found one thanks to a reverse shot from Shea Weber. Then it was the Flyers who pushed hard for another goal, but had to settle for Voracek pulling a trigger call while stepping on Artturi Lehkonen’s stick. Even with one of their main penalty killers in the box, the Habs fought off the Flyers, including remarkable work from Paul Byron and Evans to force the game to strengthen.
The Flyers had another chance to prove their worth, as Kevin Hayes landed a blocked shot and escaped on a breakaway, where he was dragged by two Canadiens defensemen. It didn’t take long for the Flyers to convert to advantage, as Farabee passed the puck past Carey Price to tie the game at three goals apiece.
Twenty-two seconds later, the Canadiens decided to get back on track. Drouin gave Suzuki a sublime blind pass. Wanting to recover his goal, Suzuki rounded Hart and carefully folded his shot around the sprawling Flyers goaltender, putting Montreal back in the lead.
The penalties flipped in favor of the Canadiens, as Voracek put his stick between Gallagher’s legs and forked him onto the ice, creating an advantage for the Habs. Matt Niskanen left Gallagher bloodied after a cross-check to the face, but without appeal, and certainly without forcing the tough one back.
Montreal held on, netting a goal into an empty Phillip Danault net to close the win and survive one more night. Then Sean Couturier threw a blind kick at Artturi Lehkonen as the goal horn sounded, triggering a huge error. This continued as Nate Thompson attempted to fight anyone in a Montreal final-horn sweater.
Game six is on Friday night and tensions are sure to be high after a controversial case on Wednesday.