James van Riemsdyk, Danny Briere, and Simon Gagne scored in a span of 9:23 in the second period against playoff star Jaroslav Halak, and the Flyers routed the Montreal Canadiens, 6-0, in the Eastern Conference finals opener last night in Philadelphia.
There would be no comeback necessary this time for the surging Flyers, who rebounded from a 3-0 series hole against the Bruins and a three-goal deficit in Game 7 in Boston on Friday night. Philadelphia has won five straight overall and is 5-1 in the playoffs in front of its orange-clad crowd.
Halak was easily outplayed by Flyers fill-in goalie Michael Leighton, who is unbeaten since replacing the injured Brian Boucher in Game 5 of Philadelphia’s win over the Bruins. Leighton made 27 saves in his first postseason shutout.
“It makes it a little bit easier when we score that many goals,’’ Leighton said. “In the second period, we played really well. We got a few goals and that kind of calmed me down and I think it calmed the team down. It took a lot of pressure off us after that.’’
Game 2 of the NHL’s first final four matchup between a No. 7 and No. 8 seed will be tomorrow night in Philadelphia.
“We have to analyze the game, no doubt,’’ Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. “The special teams play needs to be better. It was our overall game that made us successful the first and second round and we didn’t compete the way we needed to win.’’
The seventh-seeded Flyers were stunned to have home-ice advantage for the first time since the second round in 2004, and quickly made the most of it.
Defenseman Braydon Coburn scored his first playoff goal during a first-period power play, van Riemsdyk pushed the lead to 2-0 just 30 seconds into the middle frame, and Briere and Gagne — on another power play — beat Halak 5:30 apart to finish the spurt. Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux added third-period goals against Carey Price.
Since falling behind, 3-0, in the first period of Game 7 at Boston, the Flyers have outscored opponents, 10-0. Leighton will take a shutout streak of 105 minutes, 50 seconds into Game 2. Not bad for a guy who sat out because of an ankle injury from March 16 until May 10.
He has allowed only four goals on 97 shots in four games since taking over for Boucher, who is likely out for the postseason with a knee injury.
Halak, the biggest factor in the eighth-seeded Canadiens’ upset playoff wins against top-seeded Washington and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, was gone 9:53 into the second after facing only 13 shots.
“We know they’re going to come back a lot stronger in the next game,’’ Briere said. “The goal was to keep home-ice advantage — win the two games. We’re just halfway there.’’
Blackhawks 2, Sharks 1 — Dustin Byfuglien scored the tiebreaking goal with 6:45 remaining in regulation, Antti Niemi made 44 saves and Chicago extended its road dominance in the playoffs with a victory over San Jose in the opener of the Western Conference final.
Patrick Sharp also scored for the Blackhawks, who improved to 6-1 on the road this postseason and snapped a streak of four straight losses in series openers.
The last two of those came at home in the first two rounds, but the Blackhawks opened this series where they feel most comfortable — on the road.
Rookie Jason Demers scored the lone goal for San Jose, which fell to 0-4 at home all-time in two trips to the conference final. Game 2 will be played tomorrow night in San Jose.
The matchup between the top two seeds in the Western Conference featured fast skating and numerous scoring chances but few goals as Niemi and Evgeni Nabokov were up to the task for most of the game.