MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens found a chink in the Philadelphia armor on the way to winning their first game of the Eastern Conference Finals Thursday.
The Canadiens tattooed goalie Michael Leighton for five scores, but it was the way in which their forwards were able to confuse a Flyers defense that had become a fortress throughout the postseason that was most impressive.
"It's playoff hockey, you have to be ready," Flyers forward Simon Gagne said. "The games are getting quicker and quicker; it was fast against Boston (in the conference semifinals), but now it's faster and you need to think a little bit quicker out there. We're still at the same pace we were against Boston."
The Flyers took the necessary steps to catch up to that pace during their practice at Bell Centre Friday. The defensemen were at one end of the rink, firing away on Leighton and Johan Backlund, while the forwards worked the other end on third-string goalie Jeremy Duchesne.
"But anyone who thought it was going to be easy probably shouldn't be here. It's never easy. You're not in the conference finals; they're not in the conference finals to cave and whittle under the pressure. They've shown heart throughout and now we have to show a little heart ourselves."
-- Chris Pronger
Captain Mike Richards, who was very critical of his team after Game 3, also liked what he saw at practice.
"I thought practice was much more upbeat, and our execution was good," he said. "It's not like we don't know how to do it. I think it's just that the mindset of going into (Saturday) has to change from (Thursday). I think the message was delivered and received and reciprocated by everybody."
Flyers assistant coach Kevin McCarthy, who was part of the Carolina Hurricanes' coaching staff during their 2006 Stanley Cup run, wasn't surprised to see a more determined offensive Canadiens' team in Game 3.
"We knew going in that they would be a lot more aggressive on their forecheck than they were; and even in the second game in Philly, they were more aggressive on their forecheck," McCarthy said. "(On Thursday), they came at us hard and I thought our defense made some bad decisions when we had the puck. When that happens, you put yourself in trouble."
Its obvious the Canadiens are determined to go right at the heart and soul of Philadelphia's transition in an attempt to keep them spinning and reeling. And unlike the Flyers' previous two opponents, Montreal can afford to do this because of the quickness and agility the Canadiens present up front.
"I don't think we responded with handling the puck very well," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We had some opportunities to move it and we didn't move it efficiently. When we did move it, we didn't receive it efficiently. Turnovers in any sport will kill you. When things usually go south, no matter what sport, the coach will sit up here and tell you turnovers cost us the game."
Philadelphia's top four defensemen struggled mightily during a 5-1 loss in Game 3. Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn combined for a minus-6 rating, 12 penalty minutes and three giveaways. Pronger may have experienced his worst playoff game this spring as he was on the ice for the first four Montreal goals while turning the puck over twice.
"(Montreal) transitions well and they capitalize on opportunities," Pronger said. "Their first four goals (on Thursday) were all off turnovers. They get it back quickly so we have to be smart on the puck. We've got to get back on the attack, get back to grinding and forechecking and creating turnovers, pounding and being physical. We didn't do that for the first 40 minutes (of Game 3)."
When asked to rank his 162nd career playoff game, Pronger shook his head and smiled.
"Not good," he said. "But anyone who thought it was going to be easy probably shouldn't be here. It's never easy. You're not in the conference finals; they're not in the conference finals to cave and whittle under the pressure. They've shown heart throughout and now we have to show a little heart ourselves."
Leighton is confident the team will exhibit a much better effort on Saturday afternoon in Game 4.
"Both (Pronger and Matt Carle) have been among our top four 'D' and have been strong for us," Leighton said. "I think it probably wasn't their best game, and a lot of guys on our team could say that wasn't their best game. So we know they're going to rebound the next game. I know Pronger's going to be one of the best players on the ice next game, and I'm sure he knows that too.
"If we want to win, we have to have those top four guys shutting down their top players, and they're going to get the minutes, and we're all confident in them. We're not worried about that."
"We're going to learn from the mistakes we made (Thursday) and be ready to go for (Saturday)," Carle said. "(Thursday) was a bit of a wakeup call for us. We had won six games before that and I don't think we had played well in the first two games of this series and it caught up with us (Thursday)."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale