Hart, Flyers push Canadiens to the brink

0

TORONTO — Carter Hart made 29 saves for his second straight shutout as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 on Tuesday to grab a 3-1 stranglehold in their first-round series.

Michael Raffl and Philippe Myers scored for Philadelphia, which will look to close the Canadiens out in Game 5 of the best-of-seven matchup Wednesday night.

Carey Price stopped 20 shots for the Canadiens, the 24th of 24 teams included in the NHL’s restart to its pandemic-delayed season.

Montreal — which played a near-perfect Game 2 on Friday in a resounding 5-0 victory to even the series 1-1 — were bested by Hart’s 23 saves, 24 blocked shots, three posts and two crossbars Sunday’s 1-0 loss in Game 3.

It was more of the same Tuesday for a team that has now been blanked for 129 minutes 25 seconds dating back to Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s goal midway through Friday’s third period.

Up 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes Tuesday, the Flyers doubled their lead from an unlikely source with 2:56 left in the second. Myers carried the puck into the Montreal zone and flicked a shot from the sideboards that clipped the stick of Montreal defenceman Brett Kulak, skipped off the ice and handcuffed Price for the defenceman’s second of the post-season.

The Flyers continued the trend of smothering the Canadiens earlier in the period, allowing next to no room through the neutral zone. Montreal did have an opportunity when Joel Armia couldn’t connect on Hart’s doorstep before Kulak pinched down for another chance.

Jeff Petry then blasted a point shot that the Philadelphia netminder just got a piece of before it chimed off the post inside an empty Scotiabank Arena.

The Canadiens put their lines in a blender and tried to activate their defence looking for a spark in the third, with Phillip Danault getting a swipe at a bouncing puck that Hart gobbled up with under 12 minutes to go.

Montreal got a power play with 6:42 left in regulation, but Hart, who has made 52 straight saves after getting pulled in Game 2, stopped a Nick Suzuki shot and flopped onto rebound.

The Canadiens then got an unlucky delay-of-game penalty when Ben Chiarot knocked a dump-in out of the air and over the glass.

Philadelphia — the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference — coasted from there, improving to 35-0-2 in 2019-20 when leading after two periods.

The Canadiens, who were 18 points behind the Flyers in the standings when the NHL halted its season in March because of COVID-19, have allowed just five goals in the series, but now find themselves pushed to the brink of elimination.

Standing in for the recuperating Claude Julien, Montreal interim head coach Kirk Muller mixed up his top-3 centres with Danault between Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, Suzuki skating with Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin, and Kotkaniemi flanked by Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen early on for Tuesday’s 3 p.m. ET start.

But as in Game 3, the Flyers pushed ahead early in the first when Raffl worked a nifty give-and-go with Sean Couturier following a Montreal turnover before roofing his second at 6:32 on Price, who looked slightly out of position in his crease. Raffl returned to the lineup Sunday after getting hurt in his team’s first game of the restart on Aug. 2.

Couturier had a great chance to put his team up by two on a power play later in the period, but flubbed his shot at a wide-open net. Byron then saw a similar opportunity go over Hart’s goal after Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov got a stick on his effort.

The Canadiens nearly got an unlikely equalizer from their fourth line, but Alex Belzile fired high on a 2-on-1.

Notes: Muller said before the game he spoke with Julien on Monday, adding that the 60-year-old has been getting out for some walks back home in Montreal after having a stent installed in one of his coronary arteries last week. … There was a tribute to Dale Hawerchuk before the opening faceoff. The 57-year-old Hall of Fame centre died Tuesday after a battle with cancer.