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The Globe and Mail

Witching hour approaches for Cinderella Habs

If the Prime Minister of Canada loves hockey as much as he claims to, then Stephen Harper should consider a private member's bill outlawing afternoon Stanley Cup playoff games.

Especially on holiday weekends when the sun is shining.

But the NHL fantasy of American network television remains so strong that they will still allow the carrier, in this case NBC, to dictate starting times - leading to a game held at a time Canadians have far better things to do and, it turns out, the game isn't worth watching anyway.

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So begins the story of Game 4, Eastern Conference final, Philadelphia Flyers 3, Montreal Canadiens 0 - with Game 5 Monday night in Philadelphia carrying the distinct possibility that Montreal's Cinderella team will meet its pumpkin.

After all, pumpkins are the shape of the final Montreal score now in three of the four games played: 6-0, 3-0, 3-0, with only a 5-1 Game 3 victory to offer comfort to the home side.

The main hope the Canadiens have at the moment is that they were down in their two previous series, against Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, and both times rallied magnificently.

"We know we've got to stymie that," said Philadelphia defenceman Chris Pronger, "and put our foot on the throat."

On a day in which the 21,273 sellout crowd at Centre Bell now surely figure they had better things to do, a single period of hockey was played.

The first had nothing worth noting, the third little worth noting apart from an empty net goal by swift Claude Giroux, his second of the night….sorry, day.

The only period of matter was the second, and it is fair to say that the Flyers played it and the Canadiens watched, likely with just as much regret as those Canadians who stayed indoors on such a beautiful day and let an American television network spoil their holiday afternoon.

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It was a period of such stunning imbalance that more than halfway through that second period you could still see the lights bouncing off the ice in the Flyers' end, so little had it been used.

It seemed a fresh sheet of ice -one on which the Flyers wrote a short story that was not very flattering to their opponent.

"Our second period was tough," said Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban, who found it tougher than mot.

"That's, I think, where it happened," added Montreal's leading scorer Mike Cammalleri, who could not add to his 13 goals so far in the playoffs.

The tale might be called "The Veteran and the Rookie," and it involves Subban, the 20-year-old call-up for the Canadiens who had so far played wonderfully at times and horribly at others and had, along the way, evolved into the clear fan favourite every time he touched the puck or appeared on the scoreboard screen. It also involves Philadelphia defenceman Chris Pronger, who began playing in the league the year Subban turned three.

Subban tried - and forgive him this, as it was well intended - to resolve his team's lack of attack by starting it and leading it himself. He engineered his teams (ital)only(end ital) shot on net in that pivotal second period when he took the puck up ice, sent it toward the net and Maxime Lapierre got a fairly insignificant attempt on Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton.

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Subban's next shift involved him pounding the ice for the puck, getting it and trying another rush straight up centre in which he was spun around at the Philadelphia blue line while he allowed the puck to dribble over against the boards. As he turned, losing position, he gestured to the officials as if to ask if they had seen the interference.

What they were looking at, instead, was Pronger picking up that loose puck and firing it far up ice to a breaking Ville Leino, who went in alone on Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak, pulled him two different directions and slipped the puck in on the short side.

For that point on, with Philadelphia up 2-0 on that goal and Giroux's earlier breakaway chip shot, the game was over. Smart fans of the game could have switched off the channel and headed for the backyard for all that happened from then on.

"Maybe next time you learn to get [the puck]in a little deeper," said a discouraged Subban.

"He has his heart in the right place," added Montreal coach Jacques Martin, who put the mistake down to "a good learning situation" for the rookie.

But what did the others on Martin's team learn?

They learned that the Philadelphia Flyers are getting stronger - not only in Saturday afternoon's play but in bringing back two injured players, Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere, who are considered critical to the team's success, Carter for scoring and Laperriere for agitating.

They learned that when you get outshot 13-1 in a single period, the chances are pretty good that you're not having much of a game.

They learned, as they should have already learned this spring, that it is not a good thing to go down three-games-to-one in a best-of-seven series.

"We're facing elimination," said Subban, "but we've been there before."

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