No. 1 Flyers vs. No. 8 Canadiens
7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NBCSP
Philadelphia leads best-of-7 series, 3-2
The Montreal Canadiens will be without forward Brendan Gallagher when they play the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Friday.
Gallagher sustained a broken jaw when he was cross-checked by Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen during the third period of Montreal’s 5-3 win in Game 5 on Wednesday. Niskanen received a one-game suspension from the NHL Department of Player Safety on Thursday.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said Gallagher is expected to have surgery Friday. There is no timetable for his return, but he is expected to miss at least the remainder of this series.
“[Gallagher] is a warrior, he wants to play, he wishes he could play,” Bergevin said Friday. “That’s probably the toughest part for him, not being able to be with his teammates. I believe his teammates will rally around that. He is a big part of our team. We can’t replace him, but I expect 20 guys to pull the same way tonight.”
The Flyers have a chance to win a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Teams that lead a best-of-7 series 3-2 own an all-time series record of 317-87 (.784).
Here are 3 keys for Game 6:
1. Who replaces Gallagher?
Goalie Carey Price said after Game 5 that Gallagher “has got one of the biggest hearts of any guy I’ve ever played with.” Associate coach Kirk Muller said Gallagher “brought the guys into the fight tonight.”
Gallagher, who tied Tomas Tatar for the Montreal lead with 22 goals this season, also gave the Canadiens a lift by scoring his first goal of the postseason in Game 5. His mixture of skill and grit will be difficult to replace, but Joel Armia, who scored two goals in Game 5, could slide up to the top line.
2. Who plays on top defense pair for Flyers?
Niskanen and Ivan Provorov have been the Flyers’ top pair since the beginning of the season, with Niskanen providing veteran leadership and a right-handed shot that allowed Provorov to stay on his natural left side. Niskanen has averaged 22:05 of ice time per game in eight postseason games, second on the Flyers to Provorov’s 25:18.
One option to move into Niskanen’s spot could be Robert Hagg, a left-handed shot who leads Flyers defensemen with an average of 11.29 hits per 60 minutes and is fearless blocking shots. He’s averaged 13:49 of ice time in five postseason games, but coach Alain Vigneault said he believes Hagg would play the same with increased ice time.
“I would definitely see the effort whether he plays 10 (minutes) or he plays 20,” Vigneault said. “Robert is the type of individual who competes and works extremely hard. He’s been a good defenseman for us. Anytime we’ve used him he’s played to his potential. Hopefully tonight he’ll do the same thing.”
Vigneault wouldn’t divulge what his lineup would look like but said he expected a group effort from his defensemen.
“We’re going to have to do it by committee on the back end,” Vigneault said. “Matt plays 5-on-5, plays big minutes, plays power play and also kills penalties. The committee will have to step up.”
3. Flyers finishing the job
Since Jan. 7, Philadelphia is 8-0-0 after a loss, including a 1-0 win in Game 3 after a 5-0 loss in Game 2. Vigneault said he senses the same level of calm in his team entering Game 6 as he did ahead of Game 3.
“Every game is a new game,” Vigneault said. “You’ve got to stay in the present and focus on that, focus on the task at hand, what needs to be done. That’s what our players are doing.”
Flyers projected lineup
Michael Raffl — Sean Couturier — Jakub Voracek
Joel Farabee — Kevin Hayes — Travis Konecny
Claude Giroux — Derek Grant — Scott Laughton
Connor Bunnaman — Nate Thompson — Tyler Pitlick
Ivan Provorov — Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim — Philippe Myers
Shayne Gostisbehere — Justin Braun
Scratched: Andy Andreoff, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Morgan Frost, Oskar Lindblom, James van Riemsdyk, Mark Friedman, Andy Welinski, Egor Zamula, Alex Lyon, Kirill Ustimenko
Unfit to play: None
Suspended: Matt Niskanen
Canadiens projected lineup
Tomas Tatar — Phillip Danault — Joel Armia
Max Domi — Nick Suzuki — Jonathan Drouin
Artturi Lehkonen — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Paul Byron
Charles Hudon — Jake Evans — Alex Belzile
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Brett Kulak — Jeff Petry
Victor Mete — Xavier Ouellet
Scratched: Ryan Poehling, Cale Fleury, Noah Juulsen, Gustav Olofsson, Christian Folin, Cayden Primeau, Michael McNiven, Jordan Weal, Dale Weise
Unfit to play: Brendan Gallagher