Carbonneau won't lose job, but he still has a lot to learn
1. Funny how perceptions change. It wasn't all that long ago when people were speculating about the future of Philadelphia Flyers coach John Stevens. The Flyers endured a rocky February and were in danger of missing the playoffs as Easter rolled around, and there was a persistent belief Stevens would be canned if the team missed the playoffs or were the victim of an early postseason exit. Yet a team that was dead last in the NHL last season secured the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and now is headed to the conference finals after dispatching the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens in five games with an emotional 6-4 victory Saturday night. The understated Stevens has helped guide a team that had a penchant for giving up leads to a victory in the fifth game even though it trailed 3-1 just before the midway point of the game.
2. Guy Carbonneau doesn't appear to be in any job security trouble in Montreal, but the Canadiens coach's handling of the team's goaltending shows he still has a lot to learn. When rookie sensation Carey Price went off the rails in the second round against Philadelphia (this after going off the rails late in the Habs' first-round series against Boston), Carbonneau yanked him for Game 4 and went with Jaroslav Halak. The untested Slovak netminder wasn't great, but he wasn't the reason the Canadiens came up short in Game 4. So, Carbonneau went back to Price for Game 5 on Saturday. Fair enough. But what on earth was Carbonneau thinking when he left Price in after the nervous netminder allowed three goals in 2:58 of the second period to allow a 3-1 lead to evaporate? Price did make a number of terrific stops on the night, even after the Flyers rolled back into the game, but he was also shaky enough that the Flyers were able to stay close in a game the Habs could have blown open. Price looked spooked and unsure of himself for much of the last half of the game. Easy to say now, but it's hard to imagine the Habs would have been any worse off with Halak back in net midway through Saturday's game.
3. Now that we're handing out blame cards, isn't this exactly the scenario skeptics thought might unfold when Montreal GM Bob Gainey dealt Montreal's No. 1 netminder, Cristobal Huet, to Washington at the trade deadline? The persistent rumor is Gainey thought he was going to be able to acquire both Marian Hossa and backup netminder Johan Hedberg from Atlanta. But Hossa ended up in Pittsburgh and Hedberg stayed in Atlanta, while the Habs entered the playoffs with two netminders with zero NHL playoff experience. The bottom line is, not having a safety net cost the Habs a trip to the Eastern Conference finals and, perhaps, a Stanley Cup. It's true the Habs' power play sputtered against Philly, but Montreal did not receive the kind of goaltending it needed to advance. If Gainey had done the practical thing and provided Price and Halak with a veteran presence, the Habs still might be playing.
4. When people start to consider potential playoff MVPs, there will be a lot of talk about Johan Franzen in Detroit and his eye-popping 11 goals in 10 postseason games. But that discussion will also have to include the performance of Pittsburgh native R.J. Umberger of the Philadelphia Flyers, who continued his amazing postseason production Saturday with two goals and an assist. Umberger had eight goals and an assist in the five-game set versus Montreal and has nine goals total this spring, second only to Franzen. His timely contributions were one of the key factors in the underdog Flyers' upset of the Habs.
5. With the Habs spitting the bit on home ice Saturday, the NHL will be looking at the first Cup finals without a Canadian-based team since 2003. It may be better for U.S. broadcasters, but it will dampen the overall enthusiasm for the finals when it rolls around. The Flyers will play the winner of the Pittsburgh-New York Rangers semifinal, while Detroit is awaiting the winner of the Dallas-San Jose tilt in the West. The Canadiens were the lone Canadian entry to advance to the second round after Calgary lost to San Jose in seven games, and Ottawa was swept by Pittsburgh in the first round. Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton failed to qualify for the playoffs. Starting in 2004 with Calgary, there has been a Canadian team in the Cup finals every season for the past three playoff years, and that has meant a strong following from Canadian media and significant fan interest across Canada. This year's finals will no doubt feature terrific hockey but will lack that Canadian content and buzz.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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