Montreal's Cinderella playoff run nearing midnight

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MONTREAL (Reuters) - With their Cinderella season nearing midnight after two shutout losses to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Montreal Canadiens return home in need of a win.

Montreal's magic disappeared in Philadelphia and must now find a way to win at the Bell Center on Thursday or Saturday to extend the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.

Montreal had been dubbed the darlings of the NHL playoffs after eliminating both the top-seeded Washington Capitals and reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in series that both went the full seven games.

But the Flyers have suddenly taken over the mantle as the NHL's team of destiny with a playoff run that has suddenly made the Canadiens' post-season run look routine in comparison.

Needing a shootout victory over the New York Rangers in the last game of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs, the Flyers are two wins away from playing for the Stanley Cup.

Making Philadelphia's playoff run all the more remarkable is they became just the third team to win a series after losing the first three games. In the decisive game of that series the Flyers trailed 3-0 in the first period before storming back to beat Boston.

"You look at the two teams that are here right now, both teams know that it can go away quick," said Flyers forward Danny Briere. "We came back and Montreal came back a couple times. They were down 3-1, 3-2 against very good teams before.

"The worst thing we could do right now is sit back."

While the hulking Flyers are gaining momentum it seems the under-sized Canadiens appear to be running out of gas as their offense has dried up and young Slovakian goalie Jaroslav Halak has sprung leaks.

While Halak emerged as the unlikely playoff star through the first two rounds, that role has since been taken over by Flyers netminder Michael Leighton.

Plucked from the waiver wire by the Flyers in December, the 29-year-old journeyman has been in net for five straight wins and has not allowed a goal in the last 165 minutes.

"Sometimes you need your goalie to steal one for you," said Briere. "We've been on the other end a few times."

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Frank Pingue)