MONTREAL -- If this is what “playing for pride” looks like, then perhaps the Flyers ought to have been playing for pride all along.
With their playoff hopes all but officially over, the Flyers hit the ice hard at Bell Centre Monday, using a wild second period to thrash the Montreal Canadiens, 7-3.
Scott Hartnell had his seventh career hat trick, Jakub Voracek tied his career high for goals in a season and Claude Giroux tied his season total for points in a game. They didn’t look like a team in need of a miracle to reach the postseason.
“It feels great,” Hartnell said. “It’s been a tough year for goals, especially the last few games. But that offensive outburst by the top couple lines, the power play was great, you never know.”
He added, simply, “It was a great game.”
Monday’s effort was a far cry from what the Flyers have executed consistently over the past week, during which they lost four in a row and watched their conference rivals climb further ahead of them in the standings.
This, they said, is how they know they’re capable of playing -- how they should have been playing since January, and how they will continue to strive to play, despite being seven points out of playoff contention in 12th place in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re still playing for a lot of pride,” Luke Schenn said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to throw in the towel. These [final] games, we’ve got to compete hard. Losing can’t become accepted, that’s just the mentality you’ve got to have around here.”
On just their second shot of the game -- and before the Canadiens had registered one of their own -- the Flyers took the early lead. Wayne Simmonds’ slapshot bounced in front of goaltender Carey Price, and a net-crashing Simmonds was able to push the rebound past him.
And only 2:03 later, the Flyers added to their lead. Erik Gustafsson’s shot from the high slot beat a screened Price, giving the Flyers their second goal of the night on only five shots.
But the Canadiens responded -- just not on the scoreboard.
Behind the play, Canadien Ryan White threw an ugly hit on Kent Huskins, who went down hard on the ice and left the game with a concussion (see story).
“It didn’t look good when he was on the ice,” Giroux said. “We don’t like to see those kind of hits.”
As the final minute of the first period ticked toward a close, the Canadiens cut the Flyers’ lead in half. Max Pacioretty scored on the power play, thanks to a redirection that Ilya Bryzgalov probably ought to have stopped.
The Flyers carried their 2-1 lead into the intermission, but once the puck dropped to start the second period, it didn’t take long for things to open up in a big way. The four goals they scored were more than they’d scored in the four games that preceded Monday’s effort combined (three).
“It was good to score some goals,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We haven’t scored a lot of goals lately. To be able to throw some in the back of the net, I think it always helps your confidence. But I think they worked for it, too. They really put them in position to score goals with their work ethic.”
It was the Canadiens, however, who kicked off the second-period flurry, scoring just 1:02 into the stanza to tie the game, when Brendan Gallagher beat Bryzgalov for the Canadiens’ second power-play goal of the night. The tie was short lived, however, as 28 seconds later, Voracek returned the Flyers their lead -- the tally was his 18th of the season, the team lead.
The Flyers struck again, when Hartnell added to their lead as the midway point of the second period approached, besting Price with a quick snipe that snapped the team’s 0-for-17 stretch on the man-advantage.
That two-goal lead was short-lived, as the Canadiens answered right back. Alex Galchenyuk brought the Habs back to within one, scoring to make it 4-3. But it was Giroux who regained the lead at 10:46.
“A lot of goals,” Voracek said. “I think that was the way we played last year, score a lot of goals. Offense won us the game today, and Bryz was good when he needed to be. He made a couple of big saves in important parts of the game, and I think we deserved to win today.”
The Flyers answered back for a boarding hit by Alex Galchenyuk on Ruslan Fedotenko, too, when Hartnell scored again to give them the 6-3 lead they carried into the second intermission. And it was Hartnell, once again, who scored the lone goal of the final period.
A single orange and black Hat was tossed to the ice from the stands, as Canadiens fans hastened toward the exits.
Four days ago, the Canadiens -- currently in second place in the East -- clinched the playoffs. They have been a strong team all season, but never truly had a chance against the suddenly invigorated Flyers.
That the Flyers could take them down so convincingly further demonstrates the fact that they ought to be faring better than they have.
“It’s almost a little embarrassing that we’re not making the playoffs,” Giroux said. “We’re a team that expects to be in the playoffs and we have a team that should be in the playoffs. It’s just frustrating, but we have some games left here, so we’ve just got to keep working hard here.”