Saturday, March 24, 2012

Extra! Extra! Read all about it...Flyers clinch playoff berth by dumping Habs

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

With two bus loads of fans from Claude Giroux's hometown of Hearst, Ontario in attendance, the Philadelphia Flyers made the 17-hour trek by bus worth their while, clinching a berth in the postseason thanks to a 4-1 victory over the fading Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

For the 16th time since the first lockout triggered a change in the franchise's fortunes, the Orange and Black will play significant hockey into the Spring.

Danny Briere fueled the win by posting his first multi-goal effort since early January, while Giroux delighted his devoted followers with an assist that set up Kimmo Timonen's first-period tally. The hosts exploded for three power-play goals in five opportunities.

Ilya Bryzgalov stood tall once again, making 23 saves and improving to 10-1-1 in March. His acumen was never more needed than during a Canadiens' two-man advantage for 81 seconds in the middle portion of the third period, where he made several key stops on close chances.

Philly improved to 5-1-1 in its last seven games and closed within two points of the Penguins, who suffered an 8-4 defeat in Ottawa.

"I thought coach made a good point before the game," Jaromir Jagr said. "We want our games to mean something, and not get in a situation where it won't really mean much for our (playoff) position if we win games in the final week. I think this could go down to the final game."

The Flyers, who spent much of the latter portion of last season at or near the top of the standings, clinched on March 19 but struggled down the stretch. This year, it's a different story, as 96 points is only good enough for fifth spot.

Tomas Plekanec notched the lone score for the Habs, who have dropped five of their last seven and remained tied with the Islanders for last place in the East.

Peter Budaj was a surprise starter over Carey Price, and took the loss after allowing all four scores on 33 shots.

"It really comes down to special teams, both ways. I think our power play had the opportunity at the end to get us one and get us into it to pull us a little closer there and who knows what can happen after that," said Montreal head coach Randy Cunneyworth. "We made some choices in the first period which were to our benefit and the chances were there. We need to finish."

The Francophone still under the microscope, Briere, gave the hosts two key insurance tallies during man advantages in the second period which snapped a 1-1 tie.

On the first, with Alexei Emelin in the box for interference, Matt Carle unleashed a floating shot from the point which somehow made contact with Briere's stick as he stood to the left of price. The tally, his first non-empty-netter in more than two months, gave Philly the lead at 7:57.

For the latter, as Erik Cole stewed in the sin bin for high sticking, Jagr sent Briere on his way with a short lead pass along the right wing. The diminutive center slipped his shot under the crossbar on the short side for a two-goal margin at 17:38.

It came with a little help from Bryzgalov, who smartly hit Jagr with his own outlet pass while the Habs tried to switch up on the fly.

"The chances were always there, but I just couldn’t finish. I knew at some point it was going to turn,” Briere admitted.

Things threatened to get out of hand just after the midway point of the third, as Wayne Simmonds was hit with an extra minor for a scrap with Montreal's Ryan White and Bryzgalov was whistled for tripping Habs defenseman Andrei Markov after stoning the blueliner from in close 39 seconds later.

But the fort was held by an aggressive penalty killing unit aided by the Canadiens' hesitation, and the visitors squeezed off two shots which were hardly tough saves. The futility reached a crescendo when Lars Eller slipped on his one-timer from the right circle just as the one-man edge expired.

"We got careless out there at times, and he made some big saves for us," Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette said of his starter. "He's a big guy and he's been like a wall for us lately."

Matt Read capped a spirited shift inside of two minutes remaining in regulation. Denied his initial chance by Budaj, the rookie remained in the zone and found open space on the left wing, where he one-timed a Sean Couturier pass for the 4-1 final.

The Flyers produced the lone tally in an opening period defined by sloppy play on both ends -- a symptom of Montreal's slide to the bottom of the standings and Philadelphia's nervousness with the chance to lock up the playoff spot in front of the home crowd.

Only six seconds after Tomas Plekanec was sent off for slashing Carle, Giroux won a left-circle draw and chipped back to Timonen, who moved into position at the point and ripped a seeing-eye shot into the left corner of the net. The score, coming at 11:07, was the least probable chance of eight first-period shots.

Plekanec knotted the game with 3:44 gone in the second. He slipped between Braydon Coburn and Nick Grossmann up the middle, and, sprung by an Eller lead pass, rolled in alone and scored inside the right post with a backhander.

Notes: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Bryzgalov became the first Flyers goaltender to allow two or fewer goals in 11 straight starts since Bernie Parent during the middle portion of the 1974-75 campaign...Briere's two-goal night was his first since his hat trick against Ottawa on January 7...Flyers captain Chris Pronger made his first appearance in Philadelphia since his concussion, and was given a standing ovation when shown on the ArenaVision while sitting next to chairman Ed Snider...Philadelphia extended its league-high power-play goal total to 61...The Flyers won three of four in the season series, and have taken five of six here against Montreal since February of 2010.

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