Flyers, Blackhawks Beat Sharks, Canadiens to Open NHL Confererence Finals

The Philadelphia Flyers extended their longest playoff winning streak in 15 years by routing the Montreal Canadiens 6-0 in Game 1 of the National Hockey League Eastern Conference finals.

Michael Leighton made 28 saves for his first playoff shutout last night at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia as the Flyers won their fifth straight game. The Flyers won the final four games of their second-round series against the Boston Bruins to erase a 0-3 deficit and are on their longest postseason winning streak since taking six in a row in 1995.

“It was a huge win there in Boston,” Leighton told NHL.com when asked if the momentum from the previous round carried over. “We knew it was going to be a challenge this series but we came out flying.”

Also yesterday, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in the opening game of the Western Conference finals on Dustin Byfuglien’s goal with 6:45 remaining.

The Flyers, the third NHL team to overcome a 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series, scored four goals on 14 shots last night against Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

Halak, who led the Canadiens to upset wins over the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins during the first two rounds, was benched midway through the second period. Carey Price replaced him and allowed the final two goals.

Braydon Coburn, James van Riemsdyk, Danny Briere, Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux scored for the Flyers, who will host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series tomorrow.

Leighton won his third straight start for the Flyers since taking over in goal when Brian Boucher sprained a ligament in his left knee during Game 5 against the Bruins.

“Guys are stepping up and our goalie is playing well,” Giroux told reporters. “We just have to put this win behind us and be ready for the next game.”

The Flyers and Canadiens were the worst seeds to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. It’s the first time since the NHL adopted its current playoff format in 1994 that the bottom seeds have vied for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

At HP Pavilion in San Jose, California, Antti Niemi made a career-high 44 saves to help the Blackhawks improve to 6-1 on the road this postseason.

Patrick Sharp scored the first goal for the Blackhawks, who held on for the win as Niemi stopped all 12 shots he faced during the final period.

“We had our chances to win,” said San Jose’s Dany Heatley. “We have to get back at it in Game 2.”

San Jose will host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series tomorrow.

Rookie Jason Demers scored the lone goal for the Sharks, which lost three of four regular-season meetings against the Blackhawks. This is the first time the teams have met in the NHL postseason.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

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