PHILADELPHIA -- There was a homemade sign that a fan raised prior to the opening faceoff of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday that begged the Philadelphia Flyers to "Shellac Halak."
As it turned out, the hometown team was more than willing to oblige.
Halak, of course, is Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who entered the conference final riding an emotional high following impressive series triumphs over the heavily-favored Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening two rounds.
That sign proved rather prophetic, however, as the Flyers crashed the crease and, at times, stood uncontested for rebounds on the way to a 6-0 victory in Game 1 at Wachovia Center. Halak was drilled for four goals on only 11 shots and replaced by Carey Price just 9:53 into the second period, marking the third time in the playoffs that he has been pulled by coach Jacques Martin.
It's pretty apparent that unless the Canadiens take the time to clear the crease for their goaltenders, this best-of-7 series will be over sooner rather than later. In fact, five of the Flyers' six goals were a result of perfect screens or a body stationed in front of the cage.
And it all started when defenseman Braydon Coburn pitched tent just outside the right post before snapping home a rebound past Halak 3:55 into the game.
"We have guys that, when the puck is there, are good down low," Coburn said. "They all have strong sticks down there and, when you're in that area, you have to do everything you can to get that puck in.
"When you're setting up screens and stuff like that, and the puck gets through to the net and is sitting there, you have to do a good job because Halak is a great goalie. Some of his best saves have been on second and third opportunities, so we have to bear down in those areas."
The Flyers certainly did on Sunday to win the opening game of the conference final in decisive fashion.
"We definitely wanted to go and get him; go in front of the net, put the puck there and get the rebounds," Flyers forward Ville Leino told NHL.com. "That's what we wanted to do and we have to do that in Game 2 as well."
Flyers rookie forward James van Riemsdyk, who scored his second career playoff goal in as many games, realizes the importance of getting bodies in front of Halak.
"Yeah, that's going to be huge," he said. "Obviously, they're pretty tight defensively, and Halak's been unbelievable all playoffs long. You let him get in the zone out there, he can make it a long night for you. We had to keep getting guys in front of him, make his job difficult."
In addition to making life miserable for Halak and Price (two goals allowed on 11 shots), Van Riemsdyk also saw other positives in the victory.
"I felt our skating, and our physical play was pretty good," van Riemsdyk said. "We made their lives miserable out there, and we need to keep doing that for the rest of the series."
Halak certainly isn't the first goalie to experience the wrath of the Flyers in the crease. Philadelphia tagged New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur for 15 goals on 126 shots in five games (.881 save percentage) in the conference quarterfinal round before connecting for 22 goals on Boston's Tuukka Rask on 216 attempts in the conference semifinals. Rask finished with a .898 save percentage in seven games.
"You do what you try and do against any good goalie," Flyers forward Blair Betts told NHL.com. "You get in his face, create screens, traffic. We want to shoot from everywhere and try and get as many shots on net as we can."
Still, Betts, who won 59 percent of his faceoffs for the night, feels both teams can put forth an even greater effort.
"I don't think they were even close to being at their best," he said. "I don't think we were at our best, either. We were pretty opportunistic with our chances. The ones that we did get, we scored great goals. We're going to need a better effort. I think the best thing we can do is just remember the good things that we did, learn from the bad things and forget about this game entirely."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com