No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens
Flyers: 3-0-0 in round-robin; 41-21-7, .645 points percentage in regular season
Canadiens: 3-1 to win qualifier series against Pittsburgh Penguins; 31-31-9, .500 points percentage in regular season
Season series: PHI 2-1-0; MTL 1-0-2
The Montreal Canadiens may have been the lowest-seeded team in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, but the Philadelphia Flyers are not taking them for granted in the Eastern Conference First Round.
“They just played a big series, big win, they were underdogs there,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “They’re a good team. You can’t take anyone lightly in this League. You’ve got to be ready at the drop of the puck. I think for us it’s a good matchup and it’ll be a fun series.”
The Canadiens, who were the No. 12 seed in the Qualifiers, upset the Pittsburgh Penguins, the No. 5 seed, in four games thanks in large part to goalie Carey Price, who posted a 1.67 goals-against average and .947 save percentage (seven goals on 133 shots) in the series.
But Montreal looked like a different team than the one that struggled down the stretch in the regular season. The Canadiens had seven players score at least one goal, including two from Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was sent down to Laval of the American Hockey League for the final 19 games of the regular season.
“Everybody was kind of counting us [out], so of course it feels good to get to win this series,” said forward Artturi Lehkonen, who scored the game-winning goal in a 2-0 victory in Game 4. “But it was one series and now we’ve got to enjoy this for a moment and then move on.”
They will move on to a Flyers team that picked up right where they left off when the season was paused, defeating the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning by a combined score of 11-3 in the round-robin.
The Flyers and Canadiens have met six previous times in the postseason, with each team winning three series. However, Philadelphia has won the last two, including in five games in the 2010 Eastern Conference Final.
Flyers: Sean Couturier was second on the Flyers with 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists) in 69 games this season. The center is a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the League’s best defensive forward after he led the NHL in face-off winning percentage (59.6 percent), ranked first among Flyers forwards in ice time per game (19:50) and shorthanded ice time (140:29), and led all Flyers skaters with an SAT percentage of 56.1 percent. Couturier’s strong play continued in the round-robin, including getting two assists in a 4-1 win against the Lightning on Saturday that clinched the No. 1 seed in the East.
Canadiens: After being held without a point in the first two games against the Penguins, Shea Weber had one goal and two assists in a 4-3 win in Game 3 and scored an empty-net goal in a 2-0 victory in Game 4 to help close out the series. The Canadiens captain led their defensemen with 15 goals in the regular season, and he also led the team in ice time per game (24:00).
Flyers: Carter Hart allowed two goals on 59 shots in his two starts in the round-robin, a 4-1 win against the Bruins in his NHL postseason debut on Aug. 2, and the 4-1 victory against the Lightning on Saturday. The 21-year-old was at his best late against Tampa Bay, making 11 of his 23 saves during the third period. Hart looked as calm and composed during the round-robin as he did during the regular season, when he ranked in the top 10 in the League in goals-against average (2.42, second) and save percentage (.914, tied for eighth) among goalies to play at least 40 games.
Canadiens: Price saved his best for last against the Penguins in the Qualifiers, making 22 saves in a 2-0 win in Game 4. It was his sixth NHL postseason shutout, and first since making 43 saves to eliminate the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round on April 26, 2015. Price was 27-25-6 with a 2.79 GAA, .909 save percentage and four shutouts in 58 starts during the regular season, and the Canadiens are going to need him to be just as sharp if they want to pull off another upset.
Numbers to know
Flyers: Philadelphia was 0-for-11 on the power play in the round-robin after it ranked 14th in the League in the regular season at 20.8 percent.
Canadiens: Montreal was 0-for-12 with the man-advantage against Pittsburgh, a continuation of its struggles from the regular season, when it ranked 22nd at 17.7 percent.
Flyers: Nicolas Aube-Kubel made an impact during the regular season with 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) and 82 hits in 36 games. The rookie forward led the Flyers with 11 hits during the round-robin and scored the first two goals against the Lightning on Saturday. His nose for the net and strong forechecking ability earned him a promotion to the third line after starting the postseason on the fourth line.
Canadiens: Kotkaniemi scored two goals and was plus-4 against the Penguins. The 20-year-old forward struggled during the regular season with eight points (six goals, two assists) in 36 games, but he worked on his game with Laval in the AHL (13 points in 13 games) and emerged in the Qualifiers as a player Montreal could count on.
They said it
“Obviously, he’s my favorite goalie growing up. I just had the chance to actually meet him the other week and talk with him for the first time. So that was something that was pretty cool. For (my) first playoff series, playing against Carey Price will definitely be a lot of fun. I look forward to it. And we know that it’s obviously a really good goalie and they’ve got some good players on their team. So we’ll just prepare and be ready.” — Flyers goalie Carter Hart
“We’re believing in ourselves. We’re having fun with it. I think we’re enjoying the success that we’re having right now. But we also know that this next round will be against the top-seeded team, and we’re going to have to be even better. So we have an opportunity here to grow and you can’t ask for a better occasion.” — Canadiens coach Claude Julien
Will win if …
Flyers: They continue to get contributions throughout their lineup. Philadelphia was undefeated in the round-robin despite not getting a goal from its top line of Claude Giroux, Couturier and Jakub Voracek, who was unavailable to play Saturday. Still, the Flyers were able to get 11 goals from eight players, including a team-leading three from Scott Laughton, who scored 13 goals during the regular season.
Canadiens: Price continues to excel. The Canadiens scored 10 goals against the Penguins, but they were mostly outplayed early in the series. Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 32-13 combined in the first period of the first two games, but Price played well enough to keep the Canadiens in it. There could be long stretches where they are stuck in their own zone again against the Flyers, so Price will need to continue his level of play.
How they look
Flyers projected lineup
Claude Giroux — Sean Couturier — Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton — Kevin Hayes — Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk — Derek Grant — Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman — Nate Thompson — Tyler Pitlick
Ivan Provorov — Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim — Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg — Justin Braun
Scratched: Andy Andreoff, Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Oskar Lindblom, Mark Friedman, Shayne Gostisbehere, Andy Welinski, Egor Zamula, Alex Lyon, Kirill Ustimenko
Unfit to play: Michael Raffl
Canadiens projected lineup
Tomas Tatar — Nick Suzuki — Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Joel Armia
Paul Byron — Phillip Danault — Artturi Lehkonen
Alex Belzile — Max Domi — Dale Weise
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Brett Kulak — Jeff Petry
Victor Mete — Xavier Ouellet
Scratched: Charles Hudon, Ryan Poehling, Cale Fleury, Noah Juulsen, Gustav Olofsson, Christian Folin, Cayden Primeau, Michael McNiven, Jordan Weal
Unfit to play: Jake Evans
NHL.com staff writer Adam Kimelman and independent correspondent Wes Crosby contributed to this report