The Montreal Canadiens are in a familiar spot - down 3-1 in a playoff series.
For the second time in three playoff rounds, the Canadiens surrendered a commanding lead, this time losing 3-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon to give the visitors a 3-1 lead in the NHL's Eastern Conference final. The Flyers can wrap up the best-of-seven series on Monday night in Philadelphia.
However, the Flyers say they are not counting on anything when the Eastern Conference final moves to their arena, even if they smothered the Canadiens defensively on Saturday.
"With each series, obviously it gets harder [to clinch]but I don't think you can look past the next game and the next win," said Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger, who typified his team in coming back from a poor outing in Game 3 to be one of the best players on the ice in Game 4.
"[The Canadiens]are obviously a team that has had their backs against the wall throughout the playoffs," Pronger added. "We obviously want to stymie that and get our foot on their throats."
Thanks to the Flyers' defensive work, goaltender Michael Leighton did not have to work too hard in registering his third shutout in four games of this series - he didn't even make the cut as one of the game's three stars. The Flyers outshot the Canadiens 25-17 but they also blocked 27 shots.
"That seems to be the key when it comes to playoff hockey," Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette said. "Blocked shots, [winning]faceoffs and hits. It's the little things you do.
"But it was just one hockey game. We need to stay focused. The one thing we wanted to do was make sure we won one hockey game, not look down the road to who we might play in the final."
All the Canadiens have to cling to now is the memory of their first-round comeback against the Washington Capitals. The Capitals had a 3-1 lead in that series but blew three games in a row to the Canadiens.
"I think we will have to regroup," said a grim Jacques Martin, head coach of the Canadiens. "We know how we have to play. We need certain areas of our game to be better.
"We will analyze this game, bring some solution and be ready to compete on Monday night."
The Flyers were bolstered by the surprise return of forward Jeff Carter and the addition of pesky winger Ian Laperriere. While Laperriere had been expected to return from a brain contusion suffered in the first round of the playoffs, Carter (broken foot) was not expected to return until Game 5.
Carter was able to play only 13 minutes, 51 seconds, down more than five minutes from his season average of 19:18, but he made a solid contribution.
Another surprise was that Flyer forward Daniel Carcillo, who has been a chief tormentor of the Canadiens in this series, was scratched to make room for the two additions. Laviolette called it "the toughest thing I've had to do this year."
The Flyers came on strong as the first period progressed and then took over the game in the second. Claude Giroux and Ville Leino scored to give them a 2-0 lead and the Flyers smothered the Canadiens defensively. They allowed them exactly one shot on goal, which came at the 13:34 mark.
While the Canadiens did much the same to the Flyers in the third period - holding them without a shot for almost 13 minutes - they were not able to muster much offence in return. The Canadiens had two power-play chances in the latter part of the third but their woes on special teams continued, and the boos rained down from the 21,273 fans.
Typical of the Canadiens' woes were a couple of mistakes by rookie defenceman P.K. Subban. He paid the price for an ill-advised decision to try a rush up the ice late in the second period. When Subban lost the puck he was caught up the ice as Pronger wound up with the puck.
Pronger fired a long, nifty pass up the ice to spring Leino on a breakaway. Leino just managed to deke and get the puck between Halak's skate and the post to put the Flyers ahead 2-0.
That made the Bell Centre an awfully quiet place for the rest of the period.
Subban repeated the mistake in the third period but with Pronger once again setting up a breakaway, this time with Mike Richards. The Habs were lucky not to draw a penalty when Brian Gionta knocked him down as he moved in on Halak and failed to get a shot on goal.
"He's a young kid who wants to do well," Martin said of Subban. "He has his heart in the right place. It's a learning experience for him.
"He's got to be patient and make the right decision."
The Canadiens played the third period without winger Tom Pyatt, who scored a big goal in Game 3. He has an upper body injury and will be re-evaluated Sunday.
Giroux finished off the scoring with his second goal of the game, an empty-netter with 1:13 left in the third period.
There was an odd feature to the game in the number of times several Flyers had to go to the dressing room to get their skates sharpened. Richards and defenceman Kimmo Timonen each left the game several times. Scott Hartnell also had to go for a touch-up.
One television report claimed there appeared to be sand spread around the hallway outside the Flyer dressing room although the players said they were not aware of it.
"I'm not sure, I didn't check the carpet for it," Richards said of the report. "Five times I had to get my skates sharpened. I don't know, I was stepping on a lot of sticks and I hit a post a couple of times."