Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Grand Mission Accomplished

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

The lesson was a valuable one: never let your foot off the gas, or your forearm off the windpipe of the opposition when you're faced with a lesser foe before a long lay-off.

Florida's total 5-0 demolition of a lethargic Flyers team on home ice more than a month ago prior to a Holiday road swing was a debacle that could have threatened to undo all of what the team accomplished up until that point.

It may have taken four more weeks to sink in, but the Montreal Canadiens were an unwilling partner in the hosts' brutal welcoming party, as Philadelphia took a 5-2 decision on Tuesday night in the final contest before the All-Star break.

With the victory, Peter Laviolette's charges improved their record to 33-12-5 overall, leapfrogging over idle Vancouver to reclaim the best record in the NHL with 71 points. It equaled the 1985-86 club, which went 35-14-1, and the 1973-74 and 1974-75 title teams' 32-11-7 mark as the second-best 50-game record in club history.

Only the 1979-80 squad, which racked up a 35-3-12 record thanks to a 35-game unbeaten string, performed better.

Most impressive, was that the wire-to-wire decision reuslted in the franchise's 1,000th home win. Philadelphia became the first Expansion Era team (1967-present) to reach the plateau, in less than 43 seasons.

“This achievement is a true testament to the many men who have put on the orange and black and proudly wore the Flyers famous logo for nearly 45 years,” team founder and chairman Ed Snider said. “This milestone is representative of Flyers hockey. We want our home to be a very tough place for our opponents to play.”

Chris Pronger had a lot to do with that, tying a career-high with four assists, including two helpers on consecutive 5-on-3 power plays which shifted the momentum in the Orange and Black's favor.

Montreal's undisciplined spurt late in the first period produced three straight penalties, and Jeff Carter redirected a Mike Richards feed at 17:42 for a 1-0 Flyers edge on the initial two-man advantage. Just 63 seconds later, Pronger fed Kimmo Timonen, who cranked a shot from the point that Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was powerless to stop if he saw it.

“We are moving the puck quicker and moving our feet and forcing their box to move and adjust to us,”  Pronger admitted of his club's power play, clicking at just 13-of-108 efficiency coming in. “Obviously getting two 5-on-3 goals is huge for us.  We have struggled in that department as well. We took what they gave us.”

Price was shelled for 26 shots over the first two periods, and finished the game allowing four scores on 34 shots. It could have been much worse, as Philadelphia controlled play in the Habs' zone for significant periods over the first 40 minutes.

Even the bottom six forwards made their presence known on the scoresheet, as Dan Carcillo notched just his second goal in 21 games when he backhanded a rebound home past a prone Price 23 seconds into the middle period.

Though David Desharnais snapped Sergei Bobrovsky's bid for his first career shutout at 12:43, Claude Giroux slipped behind a defender and tapped in a Scott Hartnell pass at the right post for a power-play tally to restore a three-goal edge.

“I just passed it to Danny (Briere) in the middle of the ice,” Giroux said. “He made a great saucer pass to  Hartnell. Hartnell has great vision and saw me (at the) back post there and I was able to put it in.”

Montreal, which hits the All-Star break having dropped three of their last four outings, failed to gain ground on idle Boston in the Northeast Division. That didn't prevent a last-gasp effort in the third, where Jacques Martin's club buzzed around Bobrovsky and gained a territorial advantage.

Hartnell made himself known during that burst, levelling Desharnais along the right boards behind the goal line but drawing a boarding penalty. It was the final and most forceful notice that the Flyers were not about to let another lead slip from their grasp.

After hitting two posts minutes apart, the Habs climbed to 4-2 with 4:43 left in regulation. Roman Hamrlik let a long-distance shot fly which was eventually credited to Mathieu Darche, who apparently managed to deflect that chance past Bobrovsky.

It was a no-fault goal against the Russian rookie, who was stellar at times and stopped 29 shots to up his record to 21-6-3 on the year.

Briere, the erstwhile All-Star snubee, provided the exclamation point with an empty-net score -- his 26th goal of the season -- 25 seconds before the final buzzer. All told, the Flyers took three of four meetings with the Canadiens this season, and have won seven of nine over the club from La Belle Province including a five-game Eastern Conference Finals last May.

“Tonight was a big game and a big loss,” Canadiens captain Brian Gionta said. “But we’re up to the break now, and we’ll just have to use that our advantage, and then come back, ready to go.”

Not a bad way to finish up before a six-day rest.

Notes: The Flyers improved to 10-2-0 in January...Of those 1,000 home wins, 301 have come at their current home, opened in 1996 as the CoreStates Center and three at Le Colisee de Quebec in the Spring of 1968 when portions of the Spectrum's roof blew off in a windstorm...Pronger's last four-assist performance occurred on December 31, 2005 against Calgary when he played for the Edmonton Oilers...Philly's last three power-play goal game happened on October 26 against Buffalo...James van Riemsdyk sat out the game with a lower-body injury suffered on Saturday. He was officially listed as day-to-day with what is believed to be a groin issue...Giroux extended his point streak to seven games, during which he's accumulated three goals and eight assists.

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