Game preview #3: Canadiens-Penguins
(Best-of-seven series tied, 1-1)
Big story -- Montreal returns to the Bell Centre for its first game since winning a Game 7 on the road against Washington and then splitting the opening two games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The city is ready to embrace a team that continues to defy the odds with thrilling victories, the latest being Sunday's 3-1 triumph in Game 2, a game in which Pittsburgh enjoyed a 39-21 shot advantage and held a huge advantage in territorial play.
Penguins -- Pittsburgh must shake off the frustration that gripped the team in Game 2 as Montreal returned to its defensive shell and goalie Jaroslav Halak reverted to his miracle-worker persona with a brilliant 38-save effort.
"Those things do happen," coach Dan Bylsma said when asked about signs of frustration from his team in Game 2. "But it's playoff hockey -- you've got to fight through those situations, and we know that and expect that having watched this team and scouted this team. We expect that to be how the games play out."
Pittsburgh can expect tight-checking play all it wants, but the question is whether the Penguins can find answers for it. Sunday afternoon they could not, as they failed to get people to the net, fired away with low-percentage shots from the perimeter and failed to cash in on three power-play opportunities in the game’s final 20 minutes.
To answer Montreal's challenge, Pittsburgh would like to see its two top lines get going. Crosby had a pair of power-play assists in Game 1, but went without a point -- and was a minus-2 -- on Sunday. He has not scored a goal in two of his past three games. Evgeni Malkin, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy holder, has yet to score in this series.
"We have to do a better job of getting inside and we have to do a better job in certain areas in the offensive zone -- and Geno and other players are part of that as well," Bylsma said. "The great thing about playoffs is that it is always about your next game."
Canadiens -- Montreal played a near perfect road game Sunday to even this series at one game apiece.
Halak was magnificent in stopping 38 of 39 shots as he trended toward the goalie that stopped 131 of the final 134 shots he saw against Washington and not the goalie that allowed five goals on the first 18 shots he faced before being pulled in a Game 1 loss to Pittsburgh.
Halak's teammates, though, certainly helped the cause.
Montreal was far more disciplined in its own zone, using good stick placement and solid position to take away passing and shooting lanes and force the Penguins to take less-dangerous shots from the outside.
Montreal also played a more disciplined overall game, taking just three penalties Sunday. The Canadiens killed each of those off by denying Pittsburgh easy entry into the attacking zone and then being more diligent about pressuring the Pittsburgh point men once possession in the attacking zone was established.
Finally, the team received some clutch scoring from its top two lines. Michael Cammalleri, a first-line winger, had a pair of goals, including an unforgettable game-winner that came after he booted a puck into the air and then used a baseball-style swing of his stick to line the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury. Second-liner Brian Gionta also scored, driving the net hard to one-time home a Scott Gomez pass.
Who's hot -- Cammalleri is as hot as they come. He had two goals in Game 2, including the game-winner. He has three goals in this series and sits second in the League with 8 playoff goals. His usual linemate, Tomas Plekanec also is in the top-20 in scoring with 4 goals and 8 points. Gionta has a goal in each game of this series.
Matt Cooke is red-hot for Pittsburgh, scoring the Penguins' only goal Sunday afternoon. He has four goals this postseason, more than he has scored in seven previous playoff runs. Pascal Dupuis already has five assists this postseason, tying his playoff high.
Injury report -- With the returns of defenseman Jordan Leopold and forward Tyler Kennedy to the lineup, Pittsburgh is only missing Jordan Staal, who is out with a sliced tendon in his right foot. Leopold played 15:55 in his first game back after being idled for five games with a concussion. Kennedy played 12:57 off high-energy hockey after a three-game layoff because of a leg injury.
Montreal remains without top defenseman Andrei Markov, out with a lower-body injury. Markov was injured in the first period of Game 1. Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek remains day-to-day with a virus.
Stat pack -- These two teams have combined to throw 110 hits in the first two games of this series. After each team threw 30 in Game 1, Pittsburgh had a 28-22 advantage in Game 2. … Montreal blocked 15 shots in Game 2 and now has 212 in 9 playoff games, an average 23.5 a game. By comparison, Pittsburgh has blocked 100 fewer shots in just one less game. … Pittsburgh has allowed three or more goals in six of eight playoff outings this spring.
Puck drop -- Will the magic that is Montreal help the Canadiens in this series? They won two of three against Washington at home and will need a home victory in one of these next two games to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole in this best-of-7 series. But Pittsburgh likes playing in Montreal, going 6-3-1 in its last 10 regular-season visits to the Bell Center. Pittsburgh also has a star-powered contingent of French-Canadians who will be excited to play in front of friends and family. Fleury, defenseman Kris Letang and forwards Dupuis and Maxime Talbot all hail from the Montreal area.
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