The Philadelphia Flyers talked a lot about not letting the Montreal Canadiens get off to an explosive start and not letting them create traffic in front of the Philly net.
Going into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final, the Flyers also said, more than once, that saying it was one thing. Doing it was another.
It turns out they were right on all counts.
By the end of the second period, there was precious little doing after all that talking. The Canadiens roared around Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton's crease at will, fore-checked the Philly defence into all sorts of mistakes and took a convincing 5-1 win in front of 21,273 screaming fans at the Bell Centre - cutting the Flyers' lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1.
"That was an old-fashioned ass-kicking," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "They handed it to us right from the get-go. I don't know if we felt we were going to put our sticks on [the ice]and it was going to be easy."
Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette was not about to argue. "I guess you can run with that. That's good," he said of Richards's assessment.
The defence which had denied the Canadiens so much as a goal in the first two games of the series in Philadelphia was left in tatters. The most noticeable victim was Conn Smythe Trophy candidate Chris Pronger, who was on the ice for the first four Habs goals. He also flubbed a pass, resulting in a turnover that helped give the Canadiens their second goal.
"It hit some snow," Pronger said of his errant pass. "I got the puck, I looked up, it hit some snow, and I should have made a quick pass to the wing.
"That was the way our first period went. There was not much you can do. There's going to be mistakes out there. I didn't do a good job of recovering."
Pronger and defence partner Matt Carle were made to look awfully slow by the Montreal forwards, who, as promised, made a couple of adjustments to their offensive game and saw them pay off at home. The most noticeable change was the Canadiens made sure they got the puck behind the Flyers blueliners and then fore-checked them into turnovers or simply beat them to the puck.
Pronger acknowledged the Flyers as a group lost their composure and allowed Canadiens pests such as Maxim Lapierre to get under their skins.
Going into Thursday, Flyers players had said they did not start well in either of the first two games of the series, and were saved only by the play of Leighton. This time, they had promised, they would do better.
And they did, for about five minutes.
It became clear the Flyers defence was not having one of its better nights, as the Canadiens made full use of their speed to zip around their opponents. The Philly blueliners were also slow to keep the Habs out of the crease, as they did so well earlier in the series. By the end of the first period, the Canadiens were up 2-0, with both goals coming on whacks at the puck around the crease.
The Canadiens forced the Flyers into four giveaways and took the puck away from them five times in the first period. They also outshot them 17-9.
"I don't think we responded with handling the puck very well," Laviolette said. "The pressure was coming, but we still had opportunities to move the puck out of our end and we didn't."
Laviolette shuffled his defence pairings in the second period, hoping for some improvement. He later put Pronger and Carle back together to start the third, only to watch them fail as defenceman P.K. Subban chipped the puck over Carle, and the tiny but speedy Brian Gionta zipped between the Flyers behemoths for a breakaway to make it 4-0.Report Typo/Error