If not a worthy tribute, it was at least a pleasurable viewing experience.
The Montreal Canadiens delivered the most impressive performance of their adventitious postseason breakthrough in Game 2 on Friday afternoon versus the Philadelphia Flyers, winning 5-0 to even their best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
It had opportunistic scoring from a variety of sources, stifling organization from its total team defence, and brilliant goaltending from Carey Price. And for these reasons and more, surely it received a stamp of approval from head coach Claude Julien — who watched all his expectations seemingly met while resting back home in Montreal.
It hasn’t been an easy few days for the organization. Not long after the Canadiens’ Game 1 loss, Julien was admitted into hospital with chest pains associated with an active cardiac event. It was determined that a stent needed to be inserted into his coronary artery to facilitate the flow of blood, and Julien underwent successful surgery at a Toronto hospital before travelling back to Montreal.
Thankfully, the prognosis is good; Julien is expected to make a full recovery. And the coach has already been working the phone, offering thanks to the medical personnel that took care of him — and the fans who have reached out with support — while also sending a congratulatory text to Kirk Muller, the associate coach temporarily filling his shoes — at least for the remainder of the series.
“This win is for you,” Muller said, issuing his response in the postgame.
There was further evidence to that, which included Shea Weber collecting the game puck following the final horn — presumably to award to the head coach when he’s able to return.
But while “Win it for Claude” was certainly a motivational aspect to build on, it was the simple fact that Julien was now comfortable and on the path to recovery that allowed the Canadiens to settle into the task, and respond in the series.
“It was a nice relief,” Muller said, suggesting that reassurance with respect to the coach’s condition played a significant role in the team’s readiness. “We have great leaders on this team, and they did a great job getting everyone prepared.”
While absent, the attentiveness toward their coach seemed to be heightened in the comfortable win over the top-seeded Flyers, a team that hadn’t suffered a defeat since the restart. It seemed from player to player and shift to shift, the processes and expectations specific to Julien all added up over time, and eventually to a sound and impressive victory.
Montreal needed only 62 seconds to jump out in front on the first of two goals from Tomas Tatar, and was able to add another before Price was forced into his first save of the game with just under four minutes remaining in the first period. Tatar scored again early in the second as the Canadiens continued to run up the numbers from an offensive standpoint, before Jesperi Kotkaniemi secured a brace for himself, finishing the scoring with a power-play marker midway through the third period.
While it was Julien’s vision, Muller also deserves credit for unlocking Montreal’s attack in Game 2. Promoted from the fourth line, where he had been toiling, Max Domi rewarded Muller with a three-assist performance on a line with Kotkaniemi and Jonathan Drouin.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Muller said of his “gut” decision.
There will be adjustments in response from Philadelphia, and maybe some of that inspiration will wear off, some, for Montreal, but the strongest indicator that the Canadiens are truly now in this series continues to be the performance of Price.
While sheltered early, the Montreal netminder was special. He was competing, once again, with increased spirit, and made a string of confident saves and plays to secure his second shutout of the postseason so far, while also increasing his tournament save rate to .954.
As predicted, that upset potential indeed exists with Price.
And it can be helped along fine, it seems, if the Canadiens continue to hear from their head coach.
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