MONTREAL - Taking their cue from Montreal's Mike Cammalleri, the Flyers collectively stuck out their tongues - in a figurative manner - at the Canadiens on Saturday and took command of the Eastern Conference finals with a workmanlike 3-0 victory at the Bell Centre.
With a stunned sellout crowd watching, Michael Leighton became the first goalie in Flyers history to notch three shutouts in a playoff series, and Claude Giroux and Ville Leino scored second-period goals as Team Resilient opened a three-games-to-one lead in the series. Giroux also added an empty-net goal.
The Flyers can clinch the series, and earn their first Stanley Cup Finals berth since 1997, by beating the Habs in Game 5 on Monday at the Wachovia Center.
"For quite some time now, this team has always answered the challenge, always answered the bell," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who had an extremely low-key demeanor after the critical victory.
Laviolette said the Flyers had to forget about the euphoria of the win before they left the arena. "We need to dismiss it, get rid of it, and start focusing and getting ready [for Game 5] because there's just too much at stake."
After allowing Montreal to have better scoring chances in the first 10 minutes, the Flyers gradually took control of the game midway through a scoreless opening period, then played one of their best periods of the season. They outshot Montreal, 13-1, and built a 2-0 lead in the second.
That tied a Flyers playoff record for fewest shots allowed in a full period - set in 1977 vs. Boston - and marked the third time in the Canadiens' fabled playoff history that they had managed just one shot in a 20-minute session.
The Flyers, who were annoyed when Cammalleri stuck out his tongue to mock Dan Carcillo during the Canadiens' lopsided Game 3 win, allowed zero shots in an overtime period against Colorado in a 1978 playoff game, but that wasn't a full 20 minutes.
"We didn't get the puck in deep in the second period. We turned the puck over numerous times," said Montreal coach Jacques Martin, whose team was in 3-1 and 3-2 series holes against Washington and Pittsburgh, respectively. "We played in what you call a danger zone."
Leighton only had to make 17 saves - the fewest by a Flyers goalie in a shutout this season - and most of the shots were from the perimeter. The Flyers blocked 27 shots, 13 more than Montreal.
Matt Carle (six) and Kimmo Timonen (four) had the most blocks, and Chris Pronger, rebounding from a rare subpar performance, had three blocks in a dominating 31 minutes, 7 seconds to anchor the defense.
Defenseman Braydon Coburn was a team-best plus-3, and Darroll Powe (four hits), Blair Betts, Giroux, and Timonen each were plus-2.
The Flyers rebounded from a 5-1 loss in which they allowed 38 shots and permitted Montreal to swarm in front of Leighton.
On Saturday, the Flyers won board battles, captured 68 percent of the face-offs, and kept Montreal on its heels after the first 10 minutes.
"Obviously that was one of our main goals - to play better defensively," Leighton said. "We did that. I don't know how many times they came down the wing trying to fire pucks at me, and we had our D men who stuck their sticks out and it went up in the crowd."
Giroux snapped the scoreless tie after taking a pass from Timonen, speeding down the left wing and maneuvering around Josh Gorges - the defenseman said he was hindered by a problem with one of his skates - and scored on a pretty backhand-to-forehand move in which he fired high and to the short side with 14:19 left in the second period.
With a little over five minutes left in the second, Leino was sent in on a breakaway after a long feed by Pronger. Leino beat Halak with a clever backhand-to-forehand move to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead and take the life out of the noisy building.
In their loss in Montreal on Thursday, Leino said, the Flyers let the boisterous crowd affect them.
"I think the first game was a little bit of a shock," said Leino, who has four goals and 12 points in 12 playoff games this spring. "We were a little intimidated by the crowd, but today we were ready to step on it."
Leighton was forced to make only a few difficult saves in the final period, and the Flyers iced the win on Giroux's empty-netter, his eighth goal of the playoffs, with 1:13 to play.
A short time later, the Canadiens fans - who did not utter one verse of their ole-ole-ole song the entire game - headed for the exits, mindful that they may have seen their gallant team play its last home game of their season.
Then again, Montreal advanced after facing gargantuan deficits in series against top-seeded Washington and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.
"We know we've done it before, and we still believe," said Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec. "We're not done until they get the fourth win."
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