PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers are about to find out what its like to play from in front. Its been a while since the NHLs comeback kids have been the ones being chased.
Fresh off a stirring Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins that capped a rally from three games down, the Flyers scored early against Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens and rolled to a 6-0 win in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday night.
Michael Leighton was strong in a slow-starting first period for the Flyers and finished with 28 saves in his first NHL playoff shutout. James van Riemsdyk, Danny Briere and Simon Gagne scored in a span of 9:23 in the second period to turn it into a rout.
“It makes it a little but easier when we score that many goals,” Leighton said. “In the second period, we played really well. We got a few goals and that kind of calmed us down and I think it calmed the team down. It took a lot of pressure off us after that.”
There would be no comeback necessary this time for the surging Flyers, who rebounded from a 3-0 series hole against the Bruins and a three-goal deficit in Game 7 in Boston on Friday night. Philadelphia has won five straight overall and is 5-1 in the playoffs in front of its orange-clad crowd.
“We know theyre going to come back a lot better, a lot stronger in the next game,” Briere said. “The goal was to keep home-ice advantage — win the two games. Were just halfway there.”
Halak was easily outplayed by Leighton, who is unbeaten since replacing the injured Brian Boucher in Game 5 of Philadelphias win over Boston.
Game 2 of the NHLs first final four matchup between a No. 7 and No. 8 seed will be Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
“We have to analyze the game, no doubt,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. “The special teams play needs to be better. I was our overall game that made us successful the first and second round and we didnt compete the way we needed to win.”
The seventh-seeded Flyers were stunned to have home-ice advantage for the first time since the second round in 2004, and quickly made the most of it.
Defenseman Braydon Coburn scored his first NHL playoff goal during a first-period power play, van Riemsdyk pushed the lead to 2-0 just 30 seconds into the middle frame, and Briere and Gagne — on another power play — beat Halak 5:30 apart to finish the spurt.
Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux added third-period goals against Carey Price.
Since falling behind 3-0 in the first period of Game 7 at Boston, the Flyers have outscored opponents 10-0. Leighton will take a shutout streak of 105 minutes, 50 seconds into Game 2. Not bad for a guy who sat out because of an ankle injury from March 16 until May 10.
He has allowed only four goals on 98 shots in four games since taking over for Boucher, who is likely out for the postseason with a knee injury.
Halak, the biggest factor in the eighth-seeded Canadiens upset playoff wins against top-seeded Washington and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, was gone 9:53 into the second after facing only 14 shots. He entered this series with an NHL-best .933 save percentage in the playoffs and a 2.42 goals-against average.
The Canadiens endured chants of “USA! USA!” and heard mocking recitals of the familiar song that often resonates at home.
The Flyers insisted there would be no emotional or physical carry-over from their stunning win over Boston on Friday, and then they proved it.
Philadelphia had only one day off between the end of the Bruins series and the opener against Montreal. Instead of looking hung over after becoming the third NHL team to win a series it trailed 3-0, the Flyers looked as though they are still riding a wave.
The Canadiens helped the cause by taking a series of uncharacteristic undisciplined penalties – three of which directly led to goals.
Coburn started the scoring when he put in a rebound of Ville Leinos shot that bounced around in front of Halak while speedy forward Scott Gomez served a roughing penalty.
The Canadiens held a 13-6 shots advantage in the first despite not putting a puck on Leighton until 5:30 elapsed. There were two penalties called before either team recorded a shot.
The tide turned in the second period when Giroux cleanly won an offensive zone faceoff from Gomez, and nudged the puck softly toward Halak. Van Riemsdyk took two whacks at it and knocked it past Halak.
Just a second after Maxim Lapierres penalty ended, Briere slapped a shot from the top of the right circle for his team-best eighth of the playoffs. Gagne, who has five goals and six points in five games since returning from a toe injury, made it 4-0 during another power play and ended Halaks night.
It was Coburns first goal in 60 games. He scored five goals in the regular season. The most recent was Dec. 21 against Florida. He has one goal and 11 assists in 33 career NHL playoff games. Montreal is one of two teams to own a winning record against the Flyers since Philadelphia joined the NHL in 1967. Boston, another Original Six club, is the other. Montreal has won three of the previous five playoffs series against Philadelphia. Price was 0-1 with a 3.44 GAA in three previous playoff appearances this year. He hadnt played since Game 1 of the second round against Pittsburgh.