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August 17, 2020

Three reasons the Flyers shut out the Canadiens in Game 3 to retake series lead

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It will take 16 wins to become the 2019-20 Stanley Cup champion, and not all of them are going to be pretty.

Not all of them will be convincing or dominating and many will be won despite not playing particularly well. And some might come down to the wire.

Such was the Flyers' 1-0 victory over the Canadiens in Game 3 of the first round in the Eastern Conference playoffs on Sunday night, as their power play unit was awful and sloppy on both sides of the puck and nearly cost them a pivotal 'W' several times.

But Carter Hart proved, once again, he truly is a franchise goalie, earning his first postseason (and second career) shutout. Aside from the 22-year-old's exploits, the Orange and Black did just enough to recapture the series lead, 2-1. 

Here are three reasons why:

First-strike capability

The Flyers had a few quality chances early, but just past the five-minute mark a Claude Giroux mid-range shot led to a beautifully ugly goal that hit off of Jake Voracek, putting Philly on the board for the first time since Game 1.

Setting the tone early and creating momentum in the first period has been a recipe for success for the Flyers (as it should be). In all five of their playoff bubble wins, they've struck first. During the regular season, Philadelphia was 28-7-4 when scoring a goal before their opponent, and 13-14-3 when having to play from behind. 

Scoring in the first has been relatively elusive for the Flyers in 2019-20, as they only netted the pace-maker in 20 of 69 regular season games. But when they've had the lead they've kept it. For whatever reason, heading into the locker room ahead after the first 20 minutes has shown to be overwhelmingly good for the Flyers. 

Through the regular season and postseason combined, Philadelphia is 22-1-2 with the lead through period No. 1. The numbers get even better when the Flyers lead after 40 minutes — they have not lost a single game in regulation in 36 such instances this season.

Killer instinct

Back on Friday, the Flyers defense (which was bad in pretty much all aspects) coughed up a pair of power play goals to the Habs in their embarrassing 5-0 loss

In Game 3, limiting not only the Canadiens' power play chances but also relying on more than just Hart to penalty kill was key, and the Flyers did perhaps their best work on the PK Sunday. Philly killed three key Montreal man advantages, and did it with focus and precision — an incredible showing that would spur the offense on after each successful kill. 

That doesn't mean Hart wasn't the last line of defense, and at times a bailout for a defense that allowed a lot of quality chances to Montreal:

The young netminder had 23 saves Sunday and became the youngest Flyers goalie ever to record a postseason shutout. His biggest save and their biggest "kill" came during two minutes of 6-on-5 action as the Flyers had to hang on and beat one last strong wave from the Canadiens as they made their final desperate push, and came up short.

Philly tough

There are different kinds of hockey games, to be sure. Sunday evening's Knights vs. Blackhawks game, for example, saw the teams combine for 74 shots on goal as Chicago kept its playoff hopes alive.

The Canadiens and Flyers combined for just 43. 

The game was physical and the battle for space and passing lanes was brutal. The Flyers squandered six power play opportunities (they are 1-for-25 in the playoffs) but were able to keep drawing penalties to, if nothing else, put enormous pressure on Montreal's defense.

Winning two more games in this manner will be tough, literally — they out-hit their counterparts from Canada 36-22 in the victory. In addition, bodies were flying as Philly blocked 23 shots to Montreal's 10.

Still, a win is a win, and it's certainly a good thing to show your opponent — and the rest of the Stanley Cup playoff field — that a team can win games in different ways.

In Game 4, a little more offense would be nice.

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