TORONTO — How important is it to win Game 1 of a best-of-seven NHL playoff series?
According to the NHL’s Morning Skate , the team that wins the first game has gone on to win the series 478 times out of 697, which works out to 68.6 per cent of the time. That’s something to keep in mind when the Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers play Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Wednesday night at the Scotiabank Arena (8 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).
This marks the seventh time the Canadiens and Flyers are squaring off in a postseason series and they have split the first six meetings. The last time they met was the 2010 Eastern Conference final, when the Flyers won in five games. The team that won Game 1 in the first six meetings went on to win the series three times, only 50 per cent compared with the league average of 68.6. The two teams met in the Stanley Cup final once, with the Canadiens sweeping the Flyers in 1976, marking the demise of the Broad Street Bullies, who had won the Cup the previous two seasons.
The Canadiens and Flyers met three times during the 2019-20 regular season. The Flyers won 3-2 in overtime on Nov. 7 in Philadelphia and beat the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime on Nov. 30 at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens won the final meeting 4-1 in Philadelphia on Jan. 16.
Canadiens goalie Carey Price has played 30 career games against the Flyers, posting a 16-11-2 record with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage with two shutouts. This season, Price had a 1-0-1 record against the Flyers with a 1.98 GAA and a .952 save percentage.
“We played well and we had good games against Philly all year,” Canadiens defenceman Brett Kulak said during a video conference this week. “When you got Pricey and he’s been playing at the top of his game, so he gives us a chance to win every night. I think we feel pretty good going into this series and Game 1 they’re going to come hard and I think they’re quite a bit more physical team than Pittsburgh is. So we can expect that, coming a little harder on the forecheck. But I like our game. With how well we skated as a team, if we can work hard and outwork teams, I think we can have success against them.”
The Flyers finished the regular season with a 41-21-7 record, 18 points ahead of the Canadiens (31-31-9), who played two more games than Philadelphia. While the Canadiens beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in their best-of-five qualifying series, the Flyers went 3-0 in the round-robin portion of the postseason tournament while outscoring the opposition 11-3.
“They’re just a good team overall,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said about the Flyers during a video conference Wednesday morning. “Like I said, I can’t say enough times, to me they’ve been the most balanced team I’ve seen here since we got here. For these playoffs and everything else, just watching them play, they’re playing with lots of confidence. They seem to be pretty solid in all areas. Again, we’re just going to have to play hard like we did against Pittsburgh and that’s how we intend to approach the series.”
The Canadiens might have an advantage over the Flyers in the fact their qualifying-round series against the Penguins was an elimination round, while the Flyers were only playing for seedings in the round-robin.
“Just watching the other games, you could see the level of intensity was maybe higher for the play-ins,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said Tuesday. “But for us, I think we’re pretty happy with our games during the round-robin and our pre-tournament game (which they also won). I think we felt like we’re playing pretty good right now. We think we can play a little bit better, too. Just doing a lot of video and kind of make sure we’re all on the same page. But so far it’s been pretty good.
“Their games against Pittsburgh were very intense,” Giroux added about the Canadiens. “Maybe they’ll be a little bit more ready than us early on. But, I mean, the round-robins, it wasn’t not intense. It was still pretty good. It was more intense than a regular-season game, I would say. So it will be interesting to see.”
Added Flyers teammate Travis Konecny about the Canadiens: “Just from what happened recently, they’re the underdogs and they got a lot of confidence right now, momentum. So it’s definitely something we shouldn’t take lightly just because they’re the bottom seed. I mean, they’re a good hockey team. I think their back end’s a strong asset for them. They got a lot of big guys, tough guys to play against and some skilled forwards up front, too. So, by no means is this an easy task. We’re taking it very seriously and is should be a fun series.”
A chip off the Gally block
When Konecny was being interviewed by teams before the 2015 NHL Draft, he was asked what player he could compare himself with.
His answer: the Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher
“Just looking for some sort of comparables for size and work ethic and he was one of the guys that came to mind,” Konecny said Tuesday. “He’s a great player, he’s good at what he does. That was in the past, though. I think our games have shaped differently. I mean, I still look at him as a guy that battles and competes and works hard. It’s nice to see that out of a player and you try to bring that same tempo that he brings every night. It’s hard to do because he competes.”
The Flyers selected Konecny, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound right-winger, in the first round (24th overall) at the NHL Draft after he had posted 29-39-68 totals in 60 games with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s. This season, his fourth with the Flyers, Konecny had 24-37-61 totals in 66 games.
Gallagher was asked about Konecny during a video conference Tuesday.
“He’s a very good player,” Gallagher said. “I admire the way he competes. He’s someone that we probably see the game the same way. We come up as smaller guys that have to get into the tougher areas of the ice to have success and to do that you have to be able to battle and compete. He’s obviously got a lot of talent as well, but I think what drives him is his ability to get into those tough areas and to mix it up a little. And certainly, since he’s been in the league I’ve had a chance to notice him and watch him and he’s a very good player. It’s someone that we’re going to have to be aware of, but you know night after night he’s going to continue to come after us.”
Penguins shut out Gallagher
Gallagher and Tomas Tatar tied for the Canadiens’ lead in goals with 22 during the regular season, but they both failed to score in the four games against the Penguins.
Gallagher said he isn’t concerned, since other players stepped up to score goals, including youngsters Jesperi Kotkaniemi (two) and Nick Suzuki (one). Defencemen Shea Weber and Jeff Petry had two goals each.
“I think each player wants to be a difference-maker,” Gallagher said. “But when you look at the makeup on our team, it’s kind of the way that we’re built. It’s probably going to be a new guy stepping up each and every single day, each game. If we’re going to have success, that’s what we’re going to need throughout our lineup is different guys kind of playing the role of hero.
“Every guy wants to obviously feel like you’re doing your job, but that doesn’t mean if you’re not scoring goals you’re not contributing,” Gallagher added. “There’s so many different ways in the playoffs that you’re able to contribute to a team’s success and I think that was what made our group feel so good about Round 1 is that everyone kind of felt like they were able to contribute in different ways and, obviously, the young guys stepped up and played awesome for us, scored some big goals at big times.
“You speak for yourself personally, obviously there’s definitely areas where I can put the puck in the net, but I’ve never really saw the game that way. There’s times where I had very good chances to score, didn’t capitalize, and that’s kind of the way the game works. As long as the chances are coming, you’re doing the right things to earn those things. Eventually you put that pressure on yourself to put them in the net when the team needs it. But it was nice last series, obviously it wasn’t very needed.”
On the dot
For the second straight season, the Flyers ranked No. 1 in the NHL in faceoffs, winning 54.6 per cent, while the Canadiens ranked 12th at 50.4 per cent.
Sean Couturier led the Flyers centremen, winning 59.6 per cent of his faceoffs, while Giroux won 59.0. Philadelphia also acquired Nate Thompson from the Canadiens at the NHL trade deadline, and the veteran centre won 53.7 per cent of his faceoffs in seven games with the Flyers.
The Canadiens won 49.4 per cent of their faceoffs against the Penguins in the qualifying round, led by Phillip Danault at 56.5 per cent. Max Domi won 48.2 per cent, Suzuki 44.7 per cent and Kotkaniemi 43.8 per cent.
“Zuks and KK were unreal in the first round and we’re going to need them to continue to do that, almost even more this round with how good Philly’s centremen are at faceoffs,” Canadiens forward Dale Weise said. “No surprise, I don’t know if (the Flyers) were top in the league in percentages, but they’re right up there. They’re tremendous centremen and it’s going to be a huge test for us. But I think our young guys got a little bit of experience in the first round and they’re feeling confident and we’re feeling confident in them and I like the way we stack up against them.”
A bubble party?
Jonathan Drouin was asked during a video conference Tuesday if the Canadiens were able to celebrate their qualifying-round victory over the Penguins in the NHL’s bubble at the Royal York Hotel.
“We hang out together in the lounge,” Drouin said. “Watched, I think Chicago was playing their last game that night (on TV). We had fun with the guys … we still had time to enjoy it a little bit. But — like our coaches say — you’re happy, you’re not satisfied. It’s the (qualifying round). You wanted to win that series against Pittsburgh, we did, and now we got to move on to the Flyers and hopefully get that same feeling in a couple of weeks.”
Mellanby to Panthers?
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported on Twitter Tuesday that the Canadiens have given the Florida Panthers permission to speak with assistant general manager Scott Mellanby.
The Panthers announced on Monday that Dale Tallon will not be back as general manager next season after 10 years with the franchise. The Panthers were eliminated in four games by the New York Islanders in the qualifying round.
Mellanby, a Montreal native, was named the Canadiens’ assistant general manager in 2014, following a 21-year playing career in the NHL. Mellanby played eight seasons with the Panthers and was team captain for four of them.
How the Habs were built
Here’s a breakdown of how the Canadiens’ playoff roster was built:
Drafted players (12): Jake Evans, Cale Fleury, Brendan Gallagher, Charles Hudon, Noah Juulsen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Artturi Lehkonen, Victor Mete, Ryan Poehling, Carey Price, Cayden Primeau, Alexander Romanov.
Free agents (5): Alex Belzile, Ben Chiarot, Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven, Xavier Ouellet.
Trades (13): Joel Armia, Phillip Danault, Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Christian Folin, Brett Kulak, Gustav Olofsson, Jeff Petry, Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, Jordan Weal, Shea Weber, Dale Weise.
Waivers (1): Paul Byron.
Changes in Pittsburgh
Following their elimination by the Canadiens, the Penguins announced on Wednesday that assistant coaches Sergei Gonchar, Jacques Martin and Mark Recchi won’t be back next season.
GM Jim Rutherford said the search for new assistants for head coach Mike Sullivan will get begin immediately.
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