They say the last win is the toughest and no one has to remind the Flyers.
Given a chance to close out the Montreal Canadiens in their playoff series on Wednesday night, the Flyers came up short in a 5-3 loss at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
That reduces the Flyers’ lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven first-round series, which continues with Game 6 on Friday, 8 p.m.
Nick Suzuki’s goal at 10:59 of the third period broke a 3-3 tie and sent Montreal to the win.
After getting blanked by Flyers goaltender Carter Hart in Games 3 and 4, the Canadiens applied a lot more pressure near the net in this game and were rewarded for their tenacity.
Hart looked more like the goaltender who gave up four goals in a 5-0 Game 2 defeat.
In fact, if not for a successful challenge by Flyers coach Alain Vigneault of a possible fourth Montreal goal (at the time), Hart might have been out of the game late in the second period.
As it was, Hart skated over to the bench thinking he was going to be sitting on it. Instead, Vigneault told Hart he was challenging the goal on an offside violation (Hart whiffed on a shot by Nick Suzuki) and to get back in his crease.
Vigneault was close to bringing in Brian Elliott as a replacement but then he changed his mind.
“I was going to make a change,’’ the coach said. “But then I had a chance to look in Carter’s eyes. He was fine. I decided to keep him in there. At the end of the day, he made a mistake on the fourth goal (by Suzuki) he doesn’t usually make.’’
Hart wasn’t sure what to make of it when he skated to the bench.
“I didn’t know what was going on,’’ he said. “I see ‘Moose’ (Elliott) getting ready to come in. I looked at ‘AV’ (Vigneault), he looked at me and said, ‘Are you ready?’ I said yeah and went back in the net.’’
The coach defended his decision to go with Hart on back-to-back nights. Hart was coming off a sharp 2-0 win on Tuesday but was playing back-to-back nights for the first time this year.
“First of all he had been playing extremely well,’’ Vigneault said. “Tonight there might have been one or two that he might have wanted to have back. At the end of the day, we have a lot of faith in him. He’ll be fine next game.’’
A pair of goals by Jake Voracek, the second giving the Flyers a brief 2-1 lead in the second period, were the highlights for the Flyers.
The Canadiens took a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal by Joel Armia at 2:53 of the first period. The Flyers defense pairing of Travis Sanheim and Matt Niskanen were slow getting back to chase down a shot off the end boards (they may have thought Hart was going to play the puck) and Armia caught Hart off-guard for the goal.
A five-minute boarding major penalty (and game misconduct) to Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi for running Sanheim into the glass at 1:45 of the second period resulted in both Voracek goals.
On the first, Claude Giroux found Voracek open in the right circle. Voracek’s shot eluded goalie Carey Price at 2:35. Then, at 6:37, with the Flyers still up a man, Voracek attempted a cross-slot pass to Sean Couturier but the puck nicked off a defender and past Price.
The Flyers entered the game 1 for 28 on the power play in the playoffs but scored three times with the man advantage in this one.
“There’s no doubt the power play was able to capitalize on a couple opportunities,’’ Vigneault said. “It’s playoff hockey, it’s hard fought. After tying it up, giving up that (winning goal) was a heartbreaker for us.’’
It was Voracek’s fourth goal of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Giroux, Couturier, Travis Konecny and Kevin Hayes have yet to reach the goal category on the scoresheet.
“We need production five-on-five from the guys who have been driving the bus most of the year,’’ Vigneault said. “But guys are working extremenly hard. . .I’m confident these guys will contribute.’’
Montreal bounced back to tie the score on a second goal by Armia at 10:12. Then the Canadiens took the lead on a Brendan Gallagher goal at 11:30. Gallagher batted a puck out of the air on a play where Hart had no chance.
In the third period, Voracek set up Joel Farabee for a power-play goal at 10:37. But Suzuki quickly responded for Montreal. Phil Danault added an empty net goal with 17.7 seconds left.
Things are starting to get nasty out there.
“Their season is on the line,’’ Niskanen said. “So you know they’re going to bring their best. I think we were just half a step slow.’’
Voracek said: “We could have moved into the next round today. I wouldn’t say we didn’t match their desperation. Everytime we scored to maybe get some momentum, they scored right away.’’
>Between the lines
Armia’s first goal ended the Canadiens’ scoreless streak at 132 minutes, 18 seconds. . .The Flyers scratched James van Riemsdyk and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.