Fueled by a tank full of momentum -- unleaded, high test -- the magical Philadelphia Flyers continued their fabulous tour of the Eastern Conference in Game 1 of the finals, making history on Friday in Boston with their historic comeback and then making the most of things against the flummoxed Montreal Canadiens 48 hours later.
After a pause to catch their breath in a middling first period, the Flyers were superb. They cashed two power play goals, scored another two a combined 19 seconds after the man-advantage expired, and wound up chasing the seemingly impenetrable Jaroslav Halak midway through the match with their fourth goal on 13 shots.
And not to rub it in or anything, but the ever-hospitable citizens of the City of Brotherly Love cheekily ganged up on the Canadiens a few minutes later when the orange-clad Wachovia Center crowd broke into a lusty chorus of the Ole Ole song, which heretofore had been the exclusive hockey property of the Montreal fans. The impromptu Philadelphia Idol session was a supremely clever taunt by a fan base that tends to heckle opponents with a clenched fist rather than a sharp needle.
If the Canadiens had brought their meal money to the arena, the Flyers probably would have appropriated that, as well.
The final score, 6-0, actually flattered the Canadiens, who played like the 19th best team in the NHL, which, of course, they were during the regular season. That was before they began their own fairytale spring with improbable seven-game wins over top-seeded Washington and defending champion Pittsburgh. (Philadelphia, incidentally, was the 18th best team, making them the slight favorite in this Cinderella Bowl.)
The Canadiens struggled to get shots through to the net, were unable to establish any meaningful forecheck or cycle game despite outshooting the Flyers. They blocked only four more shots than the attentive Philadelphia defenders, lost key defensive faceoffs and couldn't sneak the odd deflection past goalie Michael Leighton, who was especially sharp in the first period, with 13 saves.
In a post-match press conference, Leighton noted that he had an easier time seeing the puck against Montreal than he did against Boston because the smaller Canadiens forwards were easier to peek around than the Brobdingnagian Bruins. True enough. But this was not a case of size as much as attitude, what Mike Cammalleri called the Montreal's "competes level." The Canadiens played with discretion, which is not a complement in hockey. Even their robust forwards, like Travis Moen and Maxim Lapierre, weren't in the same zip code as the Flyers crease.
"This is a brand new series, but what happened (against Boston) gave us a little boost," Flyers rookie James Van Riemsdyk said. "We have to start from scratch, but we were playing with confidence out there."
"We have to put the last series behind us," said Philadelphia grinder Arron Asham, "but things definitely snowballed. We did a great job, made it tough on their goalie and (defense) with our cycle game, crashing the net. Just got to keep it going."
Montreal can simply give the blowout the old Gallic shrug and move on to Game 2 on Tuesday, hoping the Flyers return to Planet Earth after rallying from three games down and then three goals down in Game 7 against the Bruins. After all, the Canadiens were thoroughly schooled in Pittsburgh in the opener of the second-round series when Halak was chased for a second time in the playoffs. But there were some glaring trouble spots in this game, beyond a flat performance by their money goaltender, which should give the Canadiens pause before scheduling a Stanley Cup parade for June.
There might have been a dollop of rust on the Montreal bandwagon, mildly understandable considering the Canadiens hadn't played since Wednesday, but some of the rust looked suspiciously like corrosion. Philadelphia is a different sort of opponent, more edgy than the titans that Montreal previously upset. And while the Flyers didn't physically run Montreal screaming into the streets of South Philly, their trademark robust style, personified by defenseman Chris Pronger, international man of misery, seemed to dissuade Canadiens forwards from loitering unduly.
And if the clock didn't exactly strike midnight on Montreal revelation P.K. Subban, he certainly looked like a rookie for the first time since the Canadiens summoned him from the minors late in the Washington series. He was a minus-3. Montreal had not exactly been living on borrowed time with the attacking defenseman -- he will be a dynamic NHL regular, as soon as next season -- but it had become almost casually reliant on Subban, who entered the match averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time and played a healthy 25:04.
On the Flyers' opening power-play goal, Subban committed early, laying out to block a shot even though Ville Leino was within 10 feet of Halak's net. The key word here is laying. Subban was down on the ice so long, it looked he hadn't roused himself from the afternoon nap. Leino held the puck for an extra two beats, then fired it into a thicket of players who were jostling at the far post. Defenseman Braydon Coburn would nudge it in, and Philadelphia had a lead fewer than four minutes into the match.
After the Flyers scored twice in the first five minutes of the second period, the rest pretty much was bookkeeping. Braydon Coburn, Scott Hartnell, Daniel Brière, Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux all ended up with a goal and an assist.
"We're confident," said Blair Betts, the Flyers' fourth-liner. "I mean, we won our last four games, five now ... I don't think they were even close to being at their best. That being 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. They were great shots. 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."
Then Betts unlaced his glass slippers and vanished into a warm spring night.