The Canadiens’ unexpected postseason journey came to an end on Friday night with a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth game of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Montreal, which won just 31 of 71 games during the regular season, ambushed the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Return to Play qualifying series, before taking on the top seed in the NHL Eastern Conference quarter-finals at Scotiabank Arena.
Of all the Canadiens players, Carey Price deserved a better fate. Six of the 10 goals he allowed in the best-of-seven series were deflected off or into his net by teammates.
The series win was Philadelphia’s first in the playoffs since it beat the Penguins in the first round in 2012. Montreal last won a Stanley Cup series in 2015, when it beat the Ottawa Senators. The Flyers will play the New York Islanders in the second round.
The Canadiens loss leaves Vancouver, which hoped to close out its series against St. Louis later on Friday night, as the only team from Canada remaining in the playoffs. Of the seven teams north of the border, only Ottawa failed at least to reach the qualifying round.
Philadelphia jumped on top only 28 seconds after the puck drop.
Ivan Provorov delivered a soft wrist shot that ticked Montreal defenceman Shea Weber’s stick and then squirted between Price’s legs. The Flyers scored a second time on a friendly bounce five minutes later when a shot by Kevin Hayes deflected off the stick of Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen and squeezed again through Price’s wickets.
At that point, Philadelphia had scored on two of its first three shots, and things looked decidedly bleak for the Canadiens.
But then Montreal battled back, as it has throughout the series. The Canadiens took advantage of a holding penalty against Philadelphia defenceman Philippe Myers to cut the margin to 2-1 midway through the first period. Nick Suzuki, who scored the winning goal in Game 5 on Wednesday, beat Carter Hart on a backhand.
Price began to settle in and settled his teammates down with several tough saves, including one on a wraparound attempt by Shayne Gostisbehere during a power play.
The Flyers had a man advantage three times in the first 20 minutes and failed to score each time. One wondered if that would come back to hurt them later.
Price’s lousy luck continued in the second period.
Winger Michael Raffl tipped in a puck from seven feet away off a shot by defenceman Travis Manheim to put Philadelphia ahead 3-1 with 15:34 left.
“Those are the breaks you get in a championships season,” Price said afterward. “It happens every year. Unfortunately, they didn’t go our way.”
Suzuki rescued the Canadiens again, bringing them within one on a hard wrist shot from the right side of the net less than two minutes later.
Suzuki’s goal, his fourth of the postseason, was set up by pretty pass across the ice from Jonathan Drouin.
As scrappy as ever, Montreal fairly well dominated play. It outshot Philadelphia, 33-17, outhit the Flyers and fared well in the faceoff circle.
“We played as hard as we could and had some really good chances,” Suzuki said. “We are happy with the effort if not the results.”
The Canadiens were without pesty winger Brendan Gallagher, who suffered a broken jaw when he was cross-checked by defenceman Matt Niskanen late in Wednesday’s game. Niskanen was not in the lineup either because he was assessed a one-game suspension by the NHL Department of Safety as a result of the incident.
Canadiens associate coach Kirk Muller said early in the day that he expected Gallagher to undergo surgery in Toronto. Muller took over from head coach Claude Julien, who suffered chest pains after the team’s 2-1 loss in the opening game of the series on Aug. 12 and had a stent placed in his coronary artery the following day.
Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin took exception during a video call with journalists early Friday over comments that had been made the previous day by Flyers coach Alain Vigneault. The latter had said it did not look as though Gallagher, who was bleeding from the mouth as he sat on the bench, had suffered a serious injury.
“I was expecting more and am disappointed [Alain] would make a comment about a player’s injury without knowing the extent of it,” Bergevin said. “He is going to be eating meals out of a straw. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
When asked about it later, Vigneault defended himself.
“At the end of the day, I can only state the facts,” he said. “The fact was that Gallagher got up and his mouth didn’t shut up for at least five minutes, to the referee, the linesmen and to our bench. What I was watching was a guy who just kept talking, so it did not look like he was hurt.
The 22-year-old Hart, who grew up idolizing Price, made 31 saves in the victory.
The game ended ingloriously for Price, with him on the bench watching his teammates trying to desperately score the tying goal at 6 on 5.
It never happened, but the Canadiens showed promise in this foray into postseason.
“I think everyone doubted us as soon as they saw [who we would play against] in the playoff format,” Weber said. “I think this shows we may be closer than people think.”
Muller said afterward that he and the coaching staff were proud of the team’s effort.
“These two rounds give an indication that these guys can play with great teams,” Muller said. “There is a lot of optimism moving forward.”