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THN.com Playoff Blog: Philly winning the physical battles

The Flyers mob teammate Daniel Briere after Briere scored a late third period power play goal that won the game as Andrei Markov of the Canadiens skates away. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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The Flyers mob teammate Daniel Briere after Briere scored a late third period power play goal that won the game as Andrei Markov of the Canadiens skates away. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As a traditional-minded hockey fan, it always makes me happy to see the physical aspect of the game alive and well and that it can still be the difference between winning and losing.

A worry of mine coming out of the lockout was, while a display of skilled, nifty hockey is great, it would trump over any big banging team that would be held prisoner to more rigid penalty calls.

But this Philadelphia-Montreal series proves smart, physical play is still mandatory.

The most memorable, morale-boosting (for both players and fans) theme for Montreal in Round 1 was Mike Komisarek’s ongoing battle with Milan Lucic. The big Bruins rookie was an effective player for Boston - and scored two big goals – but was held back from doing more damage by Komisarek’s constant attention.

But against Philadelphia, Komisarek hasn’t continued that type of battle with anyone and as a result, big R.J. Umberger is taking advantage by scoring six goals in four games.

At the other end, the Flyers boast three defensemen who make you think twice about going into the corner or heading to the front of the net. Derian Hatcher, Jason Smith and Braydon Coburn are nullifying the shifty, but shy Canadiens attack.

And when the Canadiens did have someone in front of the net, what happened? They scored, twice, in less than a minute. They obviously have to start doing this more in Game 5.

The first goal, Tomas Plekanec planted himself right in front of Martin Biron and tipped home Josh Gorges’ shot. Right after that Saku Koivu had a gift presented to him after a point shot hit a forward in front and bounced right to the captain.

The Flyers’ big defensemen are giving the Canadiens forwards a reason to not want to stand in front or battle in the corner, but if Montreal is to come back, the Habs have to continue to get dirty and Komisarek has to start being mean again.

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SMART HOCKEY
Say what you will about Steve Begin’s penalty, this is exactly why we play a seven game series.

It’s a shame the very type of game Montreal has to play to win the series came back to bite them at the end of this important contest, but that hit was as much interference as Mike Richards’ shoulder check late in Game 1 was a knee.

Begin caught Sami Kapanen admiring his pass, but at that junction in the game, as a player, you have to be aware of the difference between smart and not smart physical play.

The check will be debated all day, I’m sure, on whether or not it was late, but the tie-breaker for the referee is that the door to the bench was open. If it’s closed, I say it’s a clean check, but with it open, that already borderline late hit is now also, irresponsibly, putting someone’s well being at an unnecessary risk.

This series has been a battle and the bickering and name-calling (please, don't blame this one on what was a solid game of officiating) will surely continue in the fan world, but the better all-around team is certainly winning this series: Montreal has yet to hold a lead in regulation.

THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

Rory Boylen is THN.com's web content specialist. His blog appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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