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Canadiens to face Flyers in first round of playoffs

Montreal had a 1-0-2 record against Philadelphia in the regular season.

TORONTO, ONTARIO - AUGUST 07: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates off after he knocked over Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens in the second period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on August 07, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775535279

TORONTO — The Canadiens will meet the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the NHL Return to Play playoffs.

The Flyers earned the top seed in the tournament Saturday night when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 at Scotiabank Arena. The win gave the Flyers a 3-0 record in the round-robin to determine the top four seeds.

It’s a bit of a break for the Canadiens, who shut out the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0 Friday to win their best-of-five qualifying round series in four games. Montreal had a 1-0-2 record against the Flyers in the regular season, while they lost all four games against Tampa Bay.

Rookie Nicolas Aubé-Kubel scored two first-period goals to pace the Flyers, while Joel Farabee and Tyler Pitlick added insurance goals. Tyler Johnson scored the lone Tampa Bay goal on a power play.

The Lightning started the game without high-scoring forward Steven Stamkos and they lost Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman when he suffered  a lower-body injury in the first period.

Price joined Jacques Plante (4) and George Hainsworth (3) among the goalkeepers of the CH who managed at least three shutouts in a match with the possibility of eliminating the opponent. He did it against the Boston Bruins in 2008 and the Ottawa Senators in 2015.

Belzile makes debt:Coach Claude Julien tabbed 28-year-old Alex Belzile as the replacement for the injured Jake Evans and that was a surprise because Belzile had never played an NHL game. He played on the fourth line with Dale Weise and Max Domi and didn’t look out of place. He delivered three hits, had a takeaway and a blocked shot, and earned praise from Julien for his passion.

“I’ve been preparing for a long time, hoping to play in the NHL,” Belzile said.

“We’ve been saying it from the start — with four lines, you can play with a lot of energy,” Julien said. “Domi only played 10 minutes, but those were important minutes (and) Dale Weise, under pressure, made some good decisions.”

Important minutes or not, Domi has been a bit player in this series. He hasn’t picked up a point and he’s been pushed out of the top three lines by 20-year-old centres Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He’s a restricted free agent whose value has dropped since he led the Canadiens in scoring in the 2018-29 season.

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The Price is right:When the plans for the NHL Return to Play tournament were unveiled, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Pittsburgh Penguins were wary of having to face Carey Price in a short series.

As it turns out, their concerns were justified.

Price played some of the best hockey of his career as the Canadiens won the best-of-five series in four games. He had a career-best .947 save percentage and finished with a 1.67 goals-against average after blanking the Penguins 2-0 in Game 4 Friday.

“I don’t want to pump his tires too much because he’s sitting here, but he’s the backbone for us,” defenceman Shea Weber said during the postgame video conference.  “He’s so solid every night and that allows us to play with confidence, and not worry about giving up chances.

“Obviously, we want to maintain the structure (and) we kept a lot of stuff to the outside. But having him back there, the way he plays the puck on bounces, his rebound control in the series helped not only the back end, but everybody.”

Price and Sidney Crosby engaged in some trash-talking and the occasional clash of sticks in the final. After one save, Price tossed the puck in Crosby’s direction.

“It’s just two guys caring about what they’re doing,” Price said. “A lot of the guys in front of me were the guys giving him the gears. It’s just part of the game.”

Crosby had goals in each of the first two games and an assist in Game 3. His fellow superstar, Evgeni Malkin had a series-high 21 shots on goal, but was limited to one secondary assist.

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