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Danny Briere #48 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal in the first period against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wachovia Center on May 18, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Jim McIsaac/2010 Getty Images)
Danny Briere #48 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal in the first period against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wachovia Center on May 18, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Jim McIsaac/2010 Getty Images)

Roy MacGregor

Montreal not alone in the worry stakes Add to ...

This is a worried team.

They worry about their listless starts, their lack of focus.

"We're going to have to figure it out fast," the team's rookie forward was saying at the end of Game 2, "because if we keep doing that it's going to bite us in the butts."

"We didn't play our best game," said the team's star centre.

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"We all know we have to play better," added the team's stalwart defenceman. "We all realize we can play better and now we have to focus on Game 3."

Let's just pause here a moment, shall we? And perhaps splash some cold water on the face.

The speakers are James van Riemsdyk, Daniel Briere and Kimmo Timonen. They wear orange, not bleu, blanc et rouge. They are members of the Philadelphia Flyers, not the Montreal Canadiens, and they have just won six games in a row for the only time this entire season - all, amazingly, in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In the twisted world of reverse psychology, this fretting, negative, self-flagellating approach by the Flyers would seem to suggest they might not even show up for Game 3 Thursday night in Montreal - when, of course, the real question is whether or not the Montreal Canadiens will show up.

They certainly haven't so far.

The Canadiens, comeback heroes against the regular season's best team, the Washington Capitals, and then against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, have yet to score a single goal against the Flyers. Their Cinderella slipper is now worn by Philadelphia goaltender Michael Leighton, unknown and unwanted most of his professional life, but now the toast of Philadelphia with his 165 minutes and 50 seconds of shutout hockey and his back-to-back shutouts that were last equalled here in 1975 by the great Bernie Parent in a spring when the Flyers won their last Stanley Cup.

Yet still the Flyers fret.

Their coach, Peter Laviolette, tells the players they have yet to play a "complete game" and he's concerned.

Forward Claude Giroux is also worried. At times, he is convinced, the Canadiens - despite being outscored 9-0 over first two games of the Eastern Conference final - "were playing better than us.

"They just need a couple of chances to come back in the series."

The fear, given such talk, should be that the Canadiens' greatest fear entering Thursday night's match at the Bell Centre will be over-confidence - but, of course, this is utter nonsense.

"We have to realize that if we play the same way it's not going to be good enough," Briere said on landing in Montreal.

Right, Danny. Sure. We hear you.

No matter what the absurd hopes the Flyers might have in playing down their victories, the reality is that no one on Montreal's side has been able to score on Leighton. The best you could say is that once in a while they have come close - but not all that often, and not all that close.

Gilles Hamel, who once had a fair career going with the Buffalo Sabres, used to compare breaking out of a dreadful scoring slump to opening "a new jar of pickles - it's hard to get the first one out."

This, then, is the worry of the Montreal Canadians - not of the worry-free but pretending Philadelphia Flyers.

Brian Gionta, despite playing his little heart out for the Canadiens, cannot get one past Leighton, nor can Mike Cammalleri dipsy-doodling in from the sideboards, nor can P.K. Subban with a fabulous chance from the point.

All, however, would be categorized, if they had gone in, as pretty goals, nifty goals, stunning goals, whereas on the other side Philadelphia scoring star Simon Gagne is still boasting about the "dirty goal" he scored the other night after crashing the net and chipping the puck in as he fell on his face.

That's the sort of "pickle" Montreal needs to look for, not the pretty play. That's the sort of goal they often scored against Washington, and then against Pittsburgh, the sort of scoring chance that, frankly, has been seen exactly once during this conference final, when they had six or seven chances on a first-period power play in Game 2.

So hopeless were the Canadiens in pressuring the net in Game 1 that Leighton, who stands 6 foot 3, openly joked about how all he had to do was look over the heads of tiny forwards like Gionta and Cammalleri and Scott Gomez to track down the harmless pucks that were floating in like balloons.

"The first one is probably the hardest," agreed Montreal defenceman Hal Gill, who knows something himself about keeping goal creases clear of traffic, as the Flyers have so effectively done. "But that doesn't make the other ones any easier.

"Get some ugly goals," Gill believes, and the "pretty ones" will follow.

So far, however, there have been no Montreal goals of any description.

And "ugly" is a word that, after Thursday night, could just as easily describe this series, which so far has been nothing less than a profound disappointment after what was on display in the earlier rounds for both teams.

And that, unfortunately, is the real worry here.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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