After seven games of hell against the Boston Bruins, it was hard to know exactly what to expect from the Flyers in the first game of the NHL Eastern Conference finals against the Montreal Canadiens. A letdown would have been entirely understandable. A nervous, taut kind of game against a battle-tested opponent seemed pretty likely.
But a rout? Didn't see that coming.
Still, there it was: Flyers 6, Canadiens 0.
Outshot at home, the Flyers still managed to chase Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the game after scoring four goals on their first 13 shots. The team that has defied expectations for a month now -- winning as an underdog in the first round against New Jersey, coming from behind as an all-time underdog in the second round against Boston -- never sweated for a second of Game 1.
(Important traditional caveat: miles to go yet, et cetera. Especially against a Montreal team that wouldn't know what to do with a series lead if you handed it to them wrapped in a bow, and doesn't seem to care.)
The goals were of every style and flavor. Defenseman Braydon Coburn scored the first one, at 3:55 of the first period, from about 2 feet out on a power play, banging a free puck past Halak. Thirty seconds into the second period, James van Riemsdyk, awakened in Game 7 against Boston and still very much awake, scored soon after a faceoff, whacking away from in the crease on a puck shoved his way by Claude Giroux.
After that came two goal-scorer's goals -- a Danny Briere slapshot from the circle, a rocket high to Halak's glove side, and then a Simon Gagne shot through traffic in front provided by Ville Leino. It was Briere's eighth of the playoffs. For Gagne, who had the overtime winner in Game 4 of the Bruins series and the comeback-clincher in Game 7 -- it was his fifth.
At which point, Halak left and was replaced by Carey Price. And, at which point, the crowd at the Wachovia Center began amusing itself with the ole-ole chant that they never do here but always hear on television from the Bell Centre.
The only thing left to see was if Michael Leighton could hold on to his shutout. It remains a ridiculous story, Leighton's emergence this season from nowhere -- and his emergence in the middle of the second round after Brian Boucher was injured -- will be told and re-told in years to come (and really, really told and re-told if the Flyers can milk this thing for a couple of more weeks).
The truth is, since taking over from Boucher in the middle of Game 5 against Boston, Leighton has played about 10 shaky minutes -- at the start of Game 7 in Boston -- and about 200 superlative minutes other than that.
The truth is that he and his teammates made the whole thing last night almost boringly routine. Never, ever saw that coming.