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'Desperate' Canadiens keep despair from their door

They say some awfully silly things in hockey.

All coaches - Philadelphia Flyers' Peter Laviolette and Montreal Canadiens' Jacques Martin included - say they want to see their teams play with "desperation," apparently unaware that this would involve falling into a pit of utter despair and flailing recklessly without direction.

Laviolette, in fact, was even saying it in the minutes after his team's surprising 5-1 loss to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre Thursday night.

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"Desperate teams are tough teams," he said in praise of the Montreal performance.

His captain, Mike Richards, had a slightly different, saltier view: the Flyers, Richards said, had suffered "an old-fashioned ass kicking."

It was indeed. And it began early.

They also say "the first goal is important," and perhaps never so much this spring as this particular night in Montreal: Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.

Martin's Canadiens had forgotten how to score. They had lost 6-0 and then 3-0 to a team of little resume after defeating both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the supposed powerhouses of the east.

The Canadiens had accomplished this with speed, verve, splendid goaltending and not a single dose of "desperation" - only to find themselves now on the verge of true despair should they lose a third straight game.

"You go down 3-0 to these guys, you're asking for trouble," said Montreal's Scott Gomez.

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There is no known cure for a slump - "Stay away from your wives!" Eddie Shore used to scream as his stumbling charges - apart from a goal, more than one if possible.

Curiously, Martin had said before the game that to focus on a single puck going into a net is "to miss the boat." The goal, he said, would merely be the result of proper process: "Scoring goals," he said, "is a result of doing things on the ice."

They did all things right on the ice in the opening period. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak, perforated for nine goals in Philadelphia, suddenly made the saves that had taken him through Washington and Pittsburgh.

And Mike Cammalleri, the best player in the East this spring, came through once again at the seven-minute mark of the first period, collecting a puck as it bounced off the back boards and clipping it in behind the previously unbeatable Michael Leighton.

No. 13 for No. 13 - not pretty, but exquisite.

Curiously again, Flyers coach Laviolette had talked that morning about what it means to catch an early break such as this one.

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"If you have the lead," he said, "it allows you to continue to attack and for the ice to be a little more wide open because the other team has to press."

When a team trying to come from behind presses, he said, it has the effect of spreading out those players and, therefore, leaving them vulnerable to attack from the team already leading.

"I'd rather have the lead," he said.

But, of course, they did not.

Montreal had the lead and continued to attack, the speed that failed them in Philadelphia now serving them once again at home.

It was at the end of a frenetic shift by Montreal's third line that took advantage of those unavoidable openings Laviolette was talking about. Sheer hard work along the boards allowed Maxim Lapierre and Dominic Moore to get a puck across to Tom Pyatt, who seemed to use every piece of his equipment but his stick to force the puck into the Philadelphia net.

"It's not the first goal that matters," former NHL defenceman and Chicago Blackhawks scout Norm Maciver was saying. "It's the second that's the more important one."

By Maciver's reckoning, had the first gone to Philadelphia and the second to Montreal, then Montreal would have finally gotten into a game. If Philadelphia had scored twice the crowd would be lost, the Canadiens in despair, truly "desperate," and the series may as well be over.

If Montreal went up 2-0, on the other hand, it would mark the beginning of an actual hockey series, something that had not so far been on display in this final.

"It's huge when you score the first two goals," said a relieved Roman Hamrlik, Montreal's first star of the night.

"Luckily," said P.K. Subban, who also had a strong game on defence, "pucks went in for us."

It became 3-0 when the third line, again, pestered and, on a broken play, Moore got away a wrist shot that barely crawled into the Philadelphia net.

A bad goal - but is there really such a thing?

Do first goals matter that much?

Do second goals matter more?

Obviously, the goal that matters most is the winning goal. Brian Gionta's third-period deke that made it 4-0 was welcome, but not required, as the Flyers managed to get to 4-1 on a late Simon Gagne goal and Montreal's Marc-Andre Bergeron took it to 5-1 on a last-minute power play.

"We like the way we play with a lead," Cammalleri said.

Doesn't everyone?

So long as you also finish with it.

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