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Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak, from Slovakia, makes a glove save on his way to shutting out the Vancouver Canucks 3-0 during third period NHL hockey action in Montreal Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Ryan Remiorz

The first time Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Hartnell's ample frame sailed into view in front of the Montreal Canadiens net was roughly five seconds in to his second shift.

Despite the best efforts of the Habs defence to shift him, they couldn't; the tone was set.

Hartnell did no immediate damage, but a couple of minutes later, the Flyers used the same formula to jam a puck past goalie Jaroslav Halak as three players crowded his crease.

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Where the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins only intermittently succeeded, the Flyers nearly universally excelled in Game 1 of the NHL's Eastern Conference final series.

Not that the Habs were surprised.

"It happened last series. It happened the series before. I don't care who you're playing against, it's going to be a tough battle in front of the net.  It's playoff time, and it gets even worse in front of there," Montreal winger Brian Gionta said.

So how to counter the big-bodied, orange-coloured menace?

For that is the question that preoccupied the Canadiens at their off-day meeting, and one that is central to their hopes of beating the Flyers.

Head coach Jacques Martin was tight-lipped about the specific strategy, but his players provided glimpses.

The main points: Move the puck more quickly to defeat Philadelphia's pressure, have more support through the neutral zone and use team speed to put pressure on the Flyers defence.

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"They only really play with four defencemen, so we need to get it in their end and move our feet … we weren't initiating at all [in Game 1]" centre Glen Metropolit said.

The corollary, as set out by forward Dominic Moore: The Canadiens must also be more effective on the fore-check, and force the Flyers to skate with them. And once they're in the zone, they need to follow the Flyers' lead by getting bodies in front of the net to hunt for rebounds.

"There aren't a lot of secrets in the playoffs, not many goals are scored on the periphery," winger Mathieu Darche said.

Finally, the Habs defence needs to do a better job of positioning and cleaning up the front of the net - rookie P.K. Subban, a minus-3 in Game 1, was one of several Montreal rearguards who seemed overmatched - while avoiding penalties.

"We just need to do a better job boxing guys out, and we should be okay," said Halak, who was lifted after giving up four goals on 13 shots.

The zeal with which towering defenceman Hal Gill played in the first two rounds will need to be recaptured, not least by Gill himself. ("I need to be sharper," he said after Game 1.)

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The Canadiens have a few options available on the bench as they plot to contain Philadelphia's onslaught, including the 6-foot-5, 240 pound Ryan O'Byrne, who hasn't played since Game 6 of the Pittsburgh series.

In the Flyers camp, there are no illusions that Game 2 will be as easy as Sunday's 6-0 romp. Halak is 2-0 this playoff series after being pulled, and the Canadiens have made their name as a never-say-die club.

"We know they're not happy about their game," said forward Simon Gagné, adding "I expect [Halak]to come back very strong."







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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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