By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
For four games, there really wasn’t the typical playoff intensity that is customary between the Flyers and Canadiens. Game 5 certainly changed all that.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi boarded Travis Sanheim and got a five-minute major and game misconduct. Sanheim was cut on the play. Moments after Montreal took a 3-2 lead, Matt Niskanen cross-checked Brendan Gallagher near the jaw, causing blood to spew from Gallagher’s mouth. There was no penalty to Niskanen, but the Flyers defenseman was suspended for one game and will miss Game 6 on Friday. Gallagher suffered a fractured jaw on the play, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin announced on Thursday, and will also miss the remainder of the series.
At the end of the game, after Philip Danault iced it with an empty-net goal, Sean Couturier collided with Artturi Lehkonen at center ice, prompting a huge scrum that included heavy involvement from Jake Voracek and Shea Weber.
Talk about turning the bad blood meter from 0 to 60 in a hurry.
“It’s playoff hockey. It’s hard fought. There’s not a love in the air on the ice,” Alain Vigneault said after Wednesday’s game. “Guys are going at it and they are going at it hard. After tying it, obviously giving up that goal was a heartbreaker for us. Got to turn the page and get ready for the next game.”
Both coaches displayed typical gamesmanship in their media availability. Associate coach Kirk Muller said that the league would handle the Niskanen hit and that, “the video shows what it shows.” Montreal’s social media accounts had a unique corner angle of the incident in super slo-mo. Both coaches played up the significance of questionable hits by the opposition — Vigneault on Kotkaniemi’s hit on Sanheim and Muller on Niskanen’s — but downplayed their own, calling them “good hockey plays.”
Add in the little head pat Nick Suzuki gave Carter Hart after Joel Armia scored to tie the game in the second period, and there is plenty of fuel to this fire ahead of Game 6.
“Not really any intention. I was just skating by, I wasn’t really thinking,” Suzuki said after the game. “I was just excited for the goal. It was just a reaction by me. I saw it in the replay and was thinking I probably shouldn’t do that, but it happened. I wasn’t trying to be unsportsmanlike.”
Kevin Hayes wasn’t buying it.
“That’s just immaturity,” Hayes said. “Not really sure what he was thinking. I don’t think we need any more fire honestly. It’s just uncalled for. He made his decision. He can say whatever he wants. It’s whatever he thinks.”
One thing’s for sure, the intensity of this series became even more amplified in the last 24 hours, and that sets the stage for Game 6 on Friday night.
“I think every game brings more intensity,” Hayes said. “Their backs are against the wall, like you guys saw. I think the intensity is going to be there. There are a couple hits in the game and then the little scrum at the end. It’s going to be fun game for sure. Both teams need to win. If we win, we move on. If they lose, they go home. There’s a lot of things at stake.”
“Every game is a new game. You’ve got to get yourself to stay in the present and focus on that. Focus on the task at hand and what needs to be done,” Vigneault said. “That’s what our players are doing. That’s what Montreal players are doing. Like we expected, a very competitive series. Like we expected last night, a very competitive game. That’s what hockey is all about.
“It’s a very competitive hockey game. It’s real tight. We found a way to tie the game, get the lead, lose the lead again, and tie the game. Obviously I think we just need to make a few more plays with the puck. If we can do that, we’ll be in great shape, but there’s twenty guys on the other team right now, making it hard for us to make plays. It’s just one of those hard fought series. The difference between teams in the NHL is so small these days. That’s why it’s such a great league and so competitive.”