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Finally, Carey Price acted his age.

Montreal's 20-year-old netminder reminded everyone, at the worst possible time, that he is a prodigy, so much closer to riding the buses of junior hockey than he is ready for Hall of Fame induction.

He's shown considerable promise this season, but after battling through an up-and-down first-round series against the Boston Bruins, Price failed to find his comfort zone in this series against the Flyers. His performance in Games 2 and 3 was so shaky that coach Guy Carbonneau decided his team had a better chance to win with sparsely used backup Jaroslav Halak in the net.

No confidence booster, that. But with the Canadiens down to their last life, and no real alternative, Carbonneau went back to his first, flawed option. After a strong first period, Price came up small in a 6-4 loss that clinched the series for Philadelphia and sent the upstart Flyers on to the Eastern Conference Finals. More on them in a moment.

Back to Price. It just wasn't his time. The hot seat was a little too warm. The pressure of living up to his predecessors -- if not the expectation of Montreal's legions of die-hard fans -- simply too much.

That was plain throughout the series, but never more so than during a 2:58 second stretch in the second period when a seemingly comfortable 3-1 Montreal edge devolved nightmarishly into a 4-3 lead for the Flyers.

Price's play, one way or another, led to all three scores. Whether it was an apparent loss of concentration on a Mike Richards deflection, his failure to cover the short side on R.J. Umberger's wraparound or his soft glove on Scott Hartnell's blueline slapper, Price failed to meet the demands of the moment. And so even blessed with four goals of support, the most he'd received in regulation all series, the Habs still fell short.

Carbonneau is sure to take some heat for starting him in Game 5, and even more for not pulling him to start the third period. Confidence, after all, is a tricky thing to manage. Once shaken, it takes more than a pat on the back and a hearty "Go get ‘em" to re-boot it.

But give the coach credit for this. He recognized the obvious. The Flyers were too deep up front, and too strong in net, for the Canadiens to sweep the final three games and win this series. Teasing flirtations to the contrary, this was not their year.

But the core of this team is young, with their best chance to compete for a Cup still ahead of them. When they do, Price will be a big part of the program. And the experience he gained in this series is only going to help that day arrive sooner.

So he took his lumps, with an eye on better days to come.

Who knows? With a bit of maturity, and someone to help straighten out a glove-hand weakness that was exploited repeatedly by the Bruins and the Flyers in these playoffs, those days might be just around the corner.

The future looks just as promising for the Flyers ... only they don't have to wait until next year to experience theirs. One year removed from holding down last place in the NHL, they now find themselves four wins from competing for the Stanley Cup. Whoever they face in the Eastern Conference Finals -- the Penguins or Rangers -- will find the Flyers a complex problem to solve.

Philly goaltender Martin Biron, in particular, is playing with the poise that eluded his young counterpart. The Canadiens outshot the Flyers in four of the five games, but Biron was up to the task, controlling his rebounds, limiting mistakes and -- outside of Game 1 -- not giving up a goal that allowed a momentum swing.

Umberger continued to play like a modern-day John Druce, scoring two more goals tonight to give him eight in this series and nine for the playoffs. This from a guy who had just 13 in the regular season, thus adding to an already deep offensive group that included seven 20-goal scorers.

Their power play is clicking along at 25.5 percent, best of any remaining playoff team.

And then there's the confidence. Even when the Flyers were down by a pair midway through the game, there was no deviation from the game plan. They continued to hammer on Montreal's blueliners until a crack appeared ... and then they exploited it.

A simple formula, really, but one that takes the right mix of personnel and experience to exploit.

And so the Flyers continue to fight, while the Habs take home a painful lesson in expecting too much, too soon.

 

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