Monday, May 24, 2010

Flyers dispatch Habs, gain Stanley Cup Finals

by Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine

Jeff Carter notched a pair of goals and Mike Richards picked up a goal and two assists, as the Philadelphia Flyers dispatched the Montreal Canadiens by a 4-2 count in the deciding Game 5 of this Eastern Conference final.

Arron Asham also tallied for the seventh-seeded Flyers, who head to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997 and did it in a more impressive manner and in a tougher fashion than the last time.

Philadelphia reached the Cup Finals that season by rolling past Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the New York Rangers in 15 total games only to be swept by Detroit -- which ended a then NHL-longest 42-year title drought.

This time around, it was a five-game victory over New Jersey in the conference quarterfinals followed by an improbable seven-game semifinal win against Boston which saw Philly become the first team in 35 years to rally from an 0-3 series deficit.

A victory over eighth-seeded Montreal was secured in large part by holding the Habs to a total of seven goals in five games, including three shutouts by Michael Leighton.

Leighton stopped 25-of-27 shots for the victory, running his record this postseason to 6-1.

Now, Chicago stands in the way. The Blackhawks, who eliminated the Sharks with a Game 4 victory on Sunday in the Western final, haven't taken home the championship since 1961, the longest drought in the league. The Flyers have not won since the second of back-to-back triumphs in 1975.

The quest for the Cup begins at the United Center in Chicago on Saturday.

Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez lit the lamp for the Canadiens, who managed to topple top-ranked Washington and defending Cup champion Pittsburgh in seven- game triumphs before bowing in their first conference finals since winning it all in 1993.

Jaroslav Halak allowed three goals on 25 shots for Montreal, which had won all five of its previous elimination games before Monday's season-ending defeat.

With the setback, it marks the first time since the club joined the NHL that it failed to win a Stanley Cup at least once in a decade.

Philly moved ahead to stay at 3:07 of the second, when a failed Canadiens clear made its way to Matt Carle's stick on the left side. His pass was to Asham alone in front, and the gritty winger used a backhand-to-forehand move and beat Halak high to the short side.

Only 1:24 later, the Flyers cycled the puck along the left wing, with Kimmo Timonen finding Richards behind the net. His quick feed at the top of the crease was one-timed home by Carter for a 3-1 game.

The Flyers had a 5-on-3 power play for 48 seconds later in the period but failed to add to their lead. Nonetheless, the home team carried that two-goal advantage into the final 20 minutes.

Gomez cut Montreal's deficit to 3-2 at the 6:53 mark of the third period, when he followed up an errant PK Subban clear in the slot and lifted a shot under the crossbar.

Montreal was awarded a four-minute power play with 10:48 remaining when Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger's stick drew blood on Subban, but the visitors failed to score then had the final 1:23 wiped out due to taking a penalty.

Leighton averted disaster with 3 1/2 minutes remaining, as he was quick to stop a puck that caromed off the back boards and right into his crease for Tomas Plekanec.

Due to constant forechecking pressure, Halak was not able to head to the bench for an extra skater until well inside the final minute. Carter then locked up the game and the series on an empty-netter with 23 seconds to play.

Gionta opened the scoring just 59 seconds in when he slipped a shot between Leighton's legs from the right circle, but the Flyers evened the score on a Montreal power play at the 4:25 mark thanks to a virtuoso performance by the team captain.

Claude Giroux's clear from his own end touched down in the neutral zone, and Richards chased the puck into the Habs' end and collided with Halak. The disc was worked loose after the impact, then Richards got up, squared himself to the net, and scored into the open cage on the backhand.

NOTES: The Flyers improved to 19-2 all-time when leading a series 3-1...Philadelphia reached the NHL's final round for the eighth time in its history (1974-76, 1980, 1985, 1987, 1997, 2010)...Philly moved to 7-1 at home during this postseason...Gomez had not scored since Game 1 against Washington...Plekanec hadn't tallied since Game 6 against Washington...Richards leads the Flyers with 21 points (6G, 15A)...Habs forward Mike Cammalleri, who didn't record a point in the tilt, led his club with 13 goals and 19 points in 19 games...The Flyers and Blackhawks haven't met in the postseason since 1971, when Chicago won four games to none.

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