Minus head coach Claude Julien, Canadiens dominate Flyers in Game 2

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TORONTO — Tomas Tatar and Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored twice, Carey Price made 30 saves for the seventh post-season shutout of his career, and the Montreal Canadiens thumped the Philadelphia Flyers 5-0 on Friday to even their first-round playoff series at one game apiece.

Joel Armia had the other goal for the Canadiens, while Max Domi added three assists.

Carter Hart stopped 22 of 26 shots before getting pulled in favour of Brian Elliott, who finished with five saves for the Flyers.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven matchup goes Sunday night back at Scotiabank Arena.

The Canadiens dominated from start to finish minus head coach Claude Julien after he was rushed to hospital with chest pains following Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in Game 1. The 60-year-old had a stent installed in a coronary artery Thursday, and the team said he would be returning home to Montreal to rest. The Canadiens added that doctors expect a full recovery.

Associate coach Kirk Muller, who will run the bench in Julien’s absence, said he’d spoken to his boss a few times since Wednesday.

“He was fired up,” Muller said prior to the game. “He quickly (switched) from talking about him and his situation, and talked about the team. That’s always a good sign.”

In charge for at least the rest of the series with Philadelphia, Muller made his playoff head coaching debut Friday. The 54-year-old former NHLer led the Carolina Hurricanes for parts of three seasons from 2011 to 2014.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to get a text from him, or a phone call, in between periods,” Muller added of Julien.

If he was indeed watching, Montreal’s head coach would have been ecstatic with his team’s performance from the 3 p.m. ET opening faceoff onwards.

Tatar got things going with his first of the post-season 62 seconds in when Brendan Gallagher took the puck hard to the net. Hart made the initial save, but Tatar buried the rebound for the early lead.

Hart then had to make a couple of big stops as the Canadiens continued to come in waves at the sluggish Flyers.

But Montreal, which sat 18 points back of Philadelphia when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the season five months ago, eventually went up 2-0 at 12:36 when Kotkaniemi squeezed a Jonathan Drouin rebound through Hart. The goal was the 20-year-old former No. 3 overall pick’s third after he scored just six times in the regular season before getting demoted to the American Hockey League.

The Flyers didn’t record a shot until there was 3:36 left in the opening period on a power play, and didn’t get its first shot at 5 on 5 until there were just over two minutes remaining.

When the buzzer sounded, Montreal led 2-0 on the scoreboard, 16-6 on the shot clock and 34-16 in attempts on goal.

The 24th of 24 teams included in the NHL’s resumption of play, the Canadiens shocked the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round, while the Flyers jumped up from fourth to the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the round-robin portion of the restart.

Montreal no doubt expected a push from Philadelphia in the second, but a man advantage that stretched into the second saw the Canadiens go up 3-0 when Tatar used a Flyers defender as a screen and ripped his second off the post behind Hart at 1:25. The 29-year-old’s two-goal showing was the second of his post-season career, but just the fifth and six times he’s scored in 31 outings.

Philadelphia had a golden opportunity to get back in the game with a 5-on-3 power play for 1:38 a couple minutes later, but Price, who blanked the Penguins in the decisive Game 4 of the qualifying round, smothered chance after chance, leading to couple of Flyers slamming their sticks in frustration.

Armia put things completely out of reach with 2:03 left in the second when his centring pass deflected in off the skate of a Flyers defender.

That was it for Hart, who turned 22 on Thursday. He slammed the door shut as he left the ice before heading down the tunnel. Elliott entered, but his first action was getting run over by Domi off the rush before a scrum ensued around the Philadelphia net.

Kotkaniemi made it 5-0 on another power play — Montreal was 0 for 12 with the man advantage against Pittsburgh, but now has three goals in two games against the Flyers — at 10:35 of the third.

Price, the Vezina and Hart Trophy winner in 2015, held the fort from there as Montreal locked things down to even the series and hopefully put a smile on Julien’s face as he continues to recover.

Notes: Flyers regular-season leading scorer Travis Konecny took a shot off his foot in the third period and did return. … Domi’s assists were his first the first post-season points of his career. … Montreal’s Alex Belzile picked up an assist on Armia’s goal for the 28-year-old forward’s first NHL point.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2020.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press