The Philadelphia Flyers are going to be the toughest opponents that the Montreal Canadiens have faced thus far in this year’s playoffs. That’s not only because Peter Laviolette’s 2010 squad is somewhat reminiscent of the old school Broad Street Bullies, but because they are a team that wins by out-working their opponents and doesn’t rely on raw talents like Ovechkin, Semin, and Backstrom or Crosby and Malkin.
It would only seem logical that if the Habs can eliminate two of the best teams in the league, as well as the NHL’s top-two superstars, that they should be destined to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals and possibly win hockey’s greatest prize. But right now they are facing a different type of enemy; one they are not used too, and they may be in for a rude awakening.
The Flyers also have a coach behind the bench who knows what it takes to win. Laviolette has earned himself league-wide recognition of being a superb coach ever since he started with the New York Islanders back in the 2001-2002 season. He brought the Isles out of the doldrums in his first coaching stint; he improved a terrible Hurricanes team before the lock-out and then won a Stanley Cup the following season in his first full year behind the bench with the Canes; now he’s stepped in mid-year with the Flyers and has them three wins away from making it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
I was there when he coached the Isles in their memorable battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a gut-wrenching seven game series that saw some of the most vicious body-checks, haymakers and penalty-shot game winning goals. Unfortunately for Peter, (and myself), the Isles lost in game-seven. It was a series where the home team was always the victor. He didn’t have home-ice working in his favor back then, but he unexpectedly does now.
The Canadiens are far from done in this series. They didn’t make it this far by pure luck. They know how to win and beat the best of teams in the league when it comes to the most crucial time of the year, so it would be incredibly unfair to say that the Habs are going to lose this series. But they are facing their toughest opponent; a different breed of hockey. They weren’t ready for the Flyers last night and the 6-0 final was the result of being unprepared. You can expect that they are going to learn from their mistakes in Game One and adjust for Game Two.
But if the Habs want to make it to the Cup, Hal Gill and the rest of their muscle is going to have to play a little bit tougher.
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