TORONTO — Carter Hart made 27 saves, Joel Farabee scored 16 seconds after Montreal tied the game, and the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Canadiens 2-1 in the opener of their first-round playoff series Wednesday.
Ivan Provorov had the other goal for the Flyers, who will look to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven matchup Friday afternoon.
Shea Weber replied for the Canadiens, while Carey Price stopped 29 shots in the loss.
Montreal, the final club in the NHL’s 24-team restart, stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins — who had the NHL’s seventh-best record when the schedule was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic five months ago — 3-1 in the best-of-five qualifying round to book a place in the usual 16-slot playoff bracket.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, sat fourth of four teams vying for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but beat the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning by a combined 11-3 scoreline in the round-robin tournament to grab top spot.
Down 1-0 after a tentative first, the Canadiens showed more life and got even at 14:38 of the second when their power play, which came in a league-worst 0 for 12 in the post-season, finally connected. Hart stopped Weber’s one-time blast, but the puck popped out of a crowd in front to the Montreal captain, who snapped home his third.
The teams were even for exactly 16 seconds, however, as Farabee picked up his own rebound deflection on what looked like a nothing play to score his second.
Montreal, which sat 18 points behind Philadelphia in the standings back in March, had some chances earlier in the period, with Arrturi Lehkonen coming close with the teams playing 4-on-4 before Flyers captain Claude Giroux hit the post off an offensive zone faceoff. Lehkonen then fell down on a potential 2-on-0 as Montreal didn’t even get a shot off.
That set the stage for an incredible sequence that could have ended in a Philadelphia goal — or a serious injury — at the other end.
Scott Laughton, who entered with a team-leading five points, took a behind-the-back feed from Kevin Hayes with Price completely out of position. Canadiens rookie centre Nick Suzuki found himself in front the vacated net as Laughton wound up for a point-blank slapshot, but Montreal’s goalie made a miraculous, desperation stick stop to save a goal, and potentially Suzuki from a trip to the dentist or doctor.
Hart, who grew up idolizing Price, then made a good stop on Paul Byron on a 3-on-1 break before Weber and Farabee traded goals.
Price made a big stop on Hayes early in the third, and then held the fort on a 4-on-3 power play that saw Sean Couturier come close from the doorstep.
Philadelphia got another power play with under nine minutes to go, but the best chance came after the penalty expired when former Canadiens centre Nate Thompson — dealt at the trade deadline with Montreal out having thrown in the towel on the season — somehow missed a tap-in from the lip of the crease.
Montreal had a chance with Price on the bench for an extra attacker, but Hart denied Phillip Danault in tight before Suzuki hit the post with under 30 seconds to go.
Philadelphia killed the game off from to grab a 1-0 lead in the series.
Flyers winger Jakub Voracek returned to the lineup after missing his team’s final two round-robin games, and made an immediate impact on a Philadelphia power play that entered 0 for 11 since the restart.
Provorov’s one-timer from the point tipped off Byron’s stick up high and snuck its way through Price with Voracek providing a screen at 8:54.
Hart didn’t have a lot to do as the Flyers held an early 7-1 lead on the shot clock, but Lehkonen stole the puck and moved in alone before just sliding a backhand wide.
The Canadiens got a scare later in the period when Derek Grant bowled Price over after getting shoved by Xavier Ouellet off the rush. The Montreal netminder, whose leg folded awkwardly underneath him for a split second, faked like he was going to give Grant a blocker to the face in retaliation — perhaps channelling former Flyers goalie and noted pugilist Ron Hextall — but held back before scrum ensued in the crease.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2020.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press