Flyers down Canadiens 3-2, move onto second round

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TORONTO — Kevin Hayes had a goal and an assist, Carter Hart made 31 saves, and the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Friday to win their first-round playoff series 4-2.

Ivan Provorov and Michael Raffl also scored for Philadelphia, which advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Nick Suzuki had both goals for Montreal, while Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia had two assists each. An unlucky Carey Price — two Philadelphia goals went in off teammates for the second straight game, while the winner hit the post, went off the netminder’s leg and over the line — made 14 stops in taking the loss.

The Canadiens were without heart-and-soul winger Brendan Gallagher after he was cross-checked in the face by Matt Niskanen and suffered a broken jaw that requires surgery late in Montreal’s victory Wednesday. The Flyers defenceman was suspended one game by the NHL, but will be available when Philadelphia opens the second round against the New York Islanders inside the fan-less Scotiabank Arena.

Gallagher’s absence was the latest twist for the Canadiens, who entered the bubble in Toronto ranked 24th of the 24 teams in the NHL’s restart to its pandemic-delayed season.

After his club beat the heavily-favoured Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the best-of-five qualifying round, Montreal head coach Claude Julien was rushed to hospital in Toronto following Game 1 against the Flyers with chest pains. The 60-year-old had a stent inserted into one of his coronary arteries, but is back home and expected to make a full recovery.

Raffl’s goal — one he didn’t know a whole lot about — was the difference through 40 minutes as the Flyers carried a 3-2 lead even though the Canadiens held a decided territorial advantage.

Montreal had more difficulty generating chances in the third, but Tomas Tatar hit the know of Hart’s goal stick with 6:49 left in regulation on a great opportunity from in tight.

Paul Byron had another chance on Hart’s doorstep with 2:31 remaining as the Canadiens pressed, but he couldn’t find a way through.

Montreal fought until the final buzzer with Price on the bench, but the Flyers held on to advance.

Down 2-1 after the first despite carrying the majority of the play — both Philadelphia goals went in off Canadiens players — Montreal fell behind by two for the second time at 4:28 of the middle period when Travis Sanheim’s shot glanced off Raffle, hit the post and bounced off Price’s leg and in his for the winger’s third of the post-season.

The Canadiens responded 1:39 later when Drouin beat a Flyers defender to the puck, took it to the net out of the corner and fed Suzuki, who beat Hart for his fourth.

Montreal dominated proceedings from there, holding Philadelphia to one shot in the period until there were just over six minutes left in the second.

The Canadiens, who were all but eliminated from playoff contention when the schedule was suspended in mid-March because of COVID-19, fell behind just 28 seconds into the first when Provorov’s innocent-looking effort hit Montreal captain Shea Weber in front and sailed past Price on the game’s first shot.

Montreal responded with a couple of good shifts, but shortly after killing a Philadelphia power play, Price — who saw two goals go in off Canadiens blue-liner Ben Chiarot in Game 5 — was once again victimized by some more bad luck when Hayes fired a shot that ricocheted off Artturi Lehkonen’s stick and in at 5:23.

The Canadiens responded on a man advantage of their own at 10:03 when Suzuki grabbed a loose puck in the slot and sifted a shot through Hart for the rookie’s third.

The leadup to Game 6 featured a verbal sparring match between Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin and Philadelphia head coach Alain Vigneault as the already-testy series saw took on even more of a reality show-like feel thanks to the Gallagher-Niskanen affair.

Vigneault fired the opening salvo Thursday, stating the bloodied Gallagher “got up and seemed fine” following the cross-check because he stayed on the bench and continued chirping the Flyers and the officials before the severity of the injury was revealed.

After it became clear Gallagher would miss the remainder of the series — and likely much longer had the Canadiens advanced — Bergevin fired back Friday morning.

“I was expecting more and I am extremely disappointed (Vigneault) would make a comment about a player’s injuries without knowing the extent,” said the GM. “Brendan Gallagher will be missing an extended period of time and will be eating his meals out of a straw.

“I don’t wish that on anybody, and that includes the Flyers players.”

Vigneault was given an opportunity to walk back his comments during a media availability 90 minutes later, but did the opposite.

“You don’t like to see any players get injured,” he said. “Gallagher got up and his mouth didn’t shut up for at least five minutes to the referees, the linesmen and to our bench.

“I can only state the facts and state what I was watching. And what I was watching was a guy that just kept on talking. He didn’t seem like he was hurt.”

Vigneault defended the sequence as a hockey play Thursday, adding he didn’t think it was Niskanen’s fault that the five-foot-nine Gallagher isn’t as tall as many of his opponents.

The coach then doubled down further when answering another question in French on Friday.

“I don’t want to see a guy injured,” Vigneault said. “I don’t know if he aggravated his injury by speaking with us and to the referees for five minutes.”