Two of the last squads to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs now find themselves tantalizingly close to a Stanley Cup Final berth.
The Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens split a four-game season series, each winning a game at home and on the road. The last three meetings took in a playoff-type atmosphere, as both teams were jockeying for position in the tightly packed Eastern Conference race. In fact, they even passed one another as a result of a couple of low-scoring, one-goal victories.
Danny Briere of the Flyers scored a series-high 4 goals (3 in one game) and tied for the lead with 5 points. Teammate Jeff Carter was the only other player to score more than once, finishing with 3 goals. Scott Hartnell recorded 4 assists, and Matt Carle and Blair Betts each contributed a goal and an assist.
Goalies Brian Boucher (0-2-0, 2.07 goals-against average) and Michael Leighton (2-0-0, 2.04 GAA) each made two appearances.
Defenseman Roman Hamrlik paced the Canadiens with 5 assists, Tomas Plekanec added a goal and 2 assists, and Marc-Andre Bergeron and Andrei Kostitsyn each recorded a goal and an assist.
The Canadiens gave two starts each to goaltenders Carey Price (1-1-0, 2.16) and Jaroslav Halak (1-1-0, 3.03).
Overall, the Flyers outscored (10-8) and outshot (109-89) Montreal. Philadelphia was 2-for-15 (13.3 percent) on the power play, while the Canadiens were 3-for-14 (21.4).
Montreal and Philadelphia have met in the postseason five previous occasions, with the Canadiens winning three series. In 26 total games, Montreal is 15-11 and holds an 86-72 advantage in goals. They last met in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals, won by the Flyers in five games.
Dec. 7: Canadiens 3, Flyers 1, at Montreal
The Flyers scored first, but Montreal rallied for three unanswered goals and the win.
Each team set a franchise record for fewest combined shots in a game with 28; the Flyers held a 15-13 edge. "It felt a little bit weird out there," Montreal's Michael Cammalleri said. "I don't know what it looked like watching, but it felt a little weird, like both teams were playing possum a little bit. Hey, we won the game."
Briere put Philadelphia up 1-0 after 20 minutes. Kostitsyn tied the score on Montreal's third shot of the game, at 6:20 of the second period. Cammalleri scored the go-ahead goal late in the second, and Bergeron scored on the power play in the third to close the scoring.
"Both teams played a tight battle so it was hard to really generate much offense," said Price, who made 14 saves. "Both teams were doing a great job of trapping it up. Our team blocked everything -- I don't know about their guys, but our guys blocked a lot of shots tonight."
Boucher stopped 10 shots for the Flyers.
Feb. 12: Flyers 3, Canadiens 2, at Philadelphia
Philadelphia jumped to a 3-0 lead after two periods and withstood Montreal's comeback attempt. It was the Flyers' first home win against the Canadiens since March 6, 2006, ending an 0-5-1 streak.
Carter scored the first two goals of the contest, at 18:14 of the first period and 1:17 of the second. Carle expanded the lead at 3:17 of the second, beating Price (30 saves).
Montreal received goals 56 seconds apart from Glen Metropolit and Dominic Moore in the first 3:01 of the third period, but then ran into penalty trouble, taking three straight tripping calls and having to kill of 5:26 of Philadelphia power-play time, including a pair of Flyers two-man advantages.
Leighton made 23 saves for the win, which moved the Flyers into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Canadiens.
Feb. 13: Flyers 6, Canadiens 2, at Montreal
In the back-end of the home-and-home series, Philadelphia again took a 3-0 lead and kept the offensive pressure on, eventually expanding its lead to 5-1 after two periods. The third game of the season series featured one less goal than the first two meetings combined.
Briere scored a hat trick for the Flyers, the third goal coming on a third-period penalty shot, and Carter scored his third goal in two games.
"All I was thinking about was the crowd booing me and in a sense it was a good thing because it kind of cleared my mind, gave me the chance to not even think about it, just let it happen," Briere said. "Coming down on Price I had a couple of other ideas and at the last second I just changed and it worked."
Mike Richards and Betts also scored for Philadelphia, and Leighton made 26 saves.
Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez scored power-play goals for the Canadiens. Starting goalie Halak made 12 saves through two periods and was replaced by Price (eight saves) to start the third.
April 2: Canadiens 1, Flyers 0, at Philadelphia
Plekanec scored at 9:25 of the first period and Halak stopped all 35 shots he faced for his eighth career shutout.
"Especially in third period, the puck was all over me," said Halak, who stopped 14 shots in the final 20 minutes. "I was lucky, but we'll take it."
With the win, the Canadiens passed the Flyers to take over sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a little more than a week left in the regular season.
"It's a playoff game," Gionta said. "There's no doubt. We were tied in the standings and each game is huge."
Boucher made 22 saves for the Flyers.
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