By Michael Farber, SI.com
Well, there goes that honorary lifetime Mensa membership for Steve Begin.
At a time that called for poise and professionalism, in a moment that called for really nothing more than the Montreal Canadiens forward putting his butt on the bench and waiting a few minutes for overtime to start, Begin took it upon himself to check Sami Kapanen of the Philadelphia Flyers into the boards while the puck was not even in the same zip code. The bodycheck earned him a perfectly legitimate interference call, no matter how much Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau rolled his eyes after the match was over.
Daniel Briere buried a power-play goal in short order and the Flyers wound up grabbing a 4-2 victory and a 3-1 lead in this surprising second-round series. In 99 years of Canadiens franchise history, the only things dumber in the playoffs than Begin's penalty have been Stanley Cup riots.
But this was only one dodgy moment in a series that has taken a bizarre turn for Montreal, a stellar regular-season team that was powered by a can't-miss power play. The Flyers again kept it the off the board all four times Montreal had a man advantage, and they scored two power-play goals themselves, including the opener by R.J. Umberger. (In four games Umberger, who is doing to Montreal what Detroit's Johan Franzen is doing to Colorado, has scored the first goal three times. Of Umberger's seven playoff goals, six have come in this series.)
The best Flyers penalty killer has been Philadelphia's goalie, Martin Biron, who was named the first star Wednesday after stopping 36 shots. The 30-year-old Biron is the blue boy of the Flyers' famous black-and-orange. As a boy, he would paint his face blue and white, the color of his local team, the Quebec Nordiques, when he would go to games at Le Colisee. The other night the CBC showed some pictures of a young Biron with his favorite Nordiques, including Buddy Cloutier and Dale Hunter, enterprising work by Canada's national broadcaster. The first rule of being a Nordiques fan, of course, was that you loathed the Canadiens. A score of years later, it is obvious nobody has lived the creed more religiously than the still boyish-looking Biron.
The Canadiens are squeezing their sticks so tightly that the some of the forwards are going to turn those composite beauties into balloon animals. Still, a significant amount of the credit belongs to Biron, who has allowed only 10 goals in the four games while outplaying Carey Price and, in Game 4, Price's understudy, Jaroslav Halak.
The knock against Biron has been his middling lateral movement, but the Canadiens have failed to exploit it, missing some nets as open as an all-night diner. But the skating stick-figure goalie -- Biron is listed as 6-feet-3, 163 pounds and with calves with the circumference of pipe cleaners -- has moved smartly and generally limited the number of juicy rebounds, although Saku Koivu's late third-period goal, Montreal's second in 37 seconds that tied the score, was not a vintage leave.
For all the understandable fuss over Price, the Canadiens' laconic rookie, Biron also entered the playoffs as a postseason virgin. Not one previous playoff minute. He had always been a handmaid, supporting first Dominik Hasek and then Ryan Miller in Buffalo. When he was traded to Philadelphia at the deadline in 2007, he seemed to be just another in a long line of Flyers mistakes in goal, a concern for the team since Ron Hextall's early years.
If Biron can continue with his uplifting play, he has a chance to be part of the biggest upset of the 2008 playoffs. As Flyers coach John Stevens said after Game 3, "The only one picking us was the monkey on TSN." (See, Maggie the Monkey spins a wheel before each series on the network and, ah, forget it.)
And on the subject of monkeys, Carbonneau monkeyed with his goaltending by benching Price in favor of Halak, who had not started in a month. After Game 3 the coach said Price had been rattled -- actually, Carbonneau was equally rattled, not yanking him after a horrible goal by Mike Richards in the second period -- in a statement that presaged the move to the 22-year-old backup.
Halak was merely OK on Wednesday, giving up a short-side goal to Umberger from the circle and then playing too deep in his crease in the third period when Scott Hartnell scored on a rebound of a Vinny Prospal shot that had struck the crossbar. In effect, Halak was beaten on two shots on one goal.
Now Carbonneau has little choice but to return to Price in Game 5 Saturday. For Montreal, the good news is the rookie rallied from two poor games to shut out Boston in Game 7 of the first round. The bad news is if they want to win the battle of the goaltenders against Biron, the Canadiens might consider playing Price and Halak at the same time.