Season Series: Pittsburgh 3-1
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The Pittsburgh Penguins want to repeat as the Stanley Cup Champs more than anything.
You know it, I know it and they know it. But to the Penguins, last year is history, it's gonezo, behind em', 2010 is a new year and one thing you won't hear is any mention about Crosby and Co. hosting the Cup last June because they'll have none of it (unless it's in the media.)
The Penguins couldn't have started the playoffs a better way for their team with Crosby having three assists and Malkin netting two goals but most importantly losing 5-4 against the Senators proved to the defending Cup champs that nothing comes easy and they'll have to work even harder this year if they want a third consecutive Eastern Conference Championship.
In games two, three and four, the Penguins gave the NHL a taste of why they won the cup last year with Crosby netting eight points (four goals, four assists) and Malkin adding a pair of goals himself.
Next, they dropped game five before winning game six in overtime after trailing 3-0 early (Crosby was held pointless in game six.)
A lot of people hate on Crosby, they call him a cry-baby among other things and personally, I'm not the biggest Crosby fan out there, but he's a fabulous hockey player and stand-up individual.
His talent is undeniable. He had five consecutive multiple point games to start off the playoffs and if I had the chance to pick one player in the NHL to build my team around, it would be Sidney Crosby and not Alexander Ovechkin. Crosby proved this season he can score, while continuing to prove he is a better play-maker.
Yes, Ovechkin is flashier but Crosby is a true champion. He's already lead his team to a Stanley Cup and his country to Olympic gold, at 22-years-old!
On defence Gonchar has stepped up his game (as expected) when April hockey rolled around by playing solid D' and adding an offensive punch with assist after assist (it helps when you have players like Crosby and Malkin to pass too.)
The Penguins problem may come down to the biggest defense-men of all though—their goalie. Marc-Andre Fleury had question marks around him the entire playoffs last year and proved the media and fans wrong.
At least he did until this season because yet again, the main concern for Pittsburgh and all the talk in the media remains on the Penguins goal-tending. Fleury is posting a worse goals against average and save percentage in the playoffs than he did all season and when you pair yourself up against a team with the offensive fire power similar to that of the Penguins, Fleury may put his team in a position they really don't want to be in.
The Canadiens don't have that punch. If Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar, Guerin, Dupuis and a few more players can continue to step up in pivotal times in the game, it may just put the woes of their goal-tending in the rear-view mirror.
Either way, it'd help Pittsburgh repeat as Cup champs if Fleury just stepped up and played solid hockey. After all, a goalie can win (or loss) you an entire series but the Montreal Canadiens won't take this series to seven games like they did Washington because they aren't one of those teams with offensive fire power that can challenge Pittsburgh.
The Capitals weren't playing good hockey, the Penguins are. I don't have enough confidence in Jaroslav Halak, and clearly either has Montreal (since they played Carey Price for a couple games and watched him crap himself.) And yes, I watched Halak in game six against the Capitals make save after save after save but that's only one game.
Players like Crosby, Malkin, Staal and the rest of the Penguins will be simple too much and the Montreal squad who got lucky against an unenergized Caps squad. Pittsburgh will ultimately ruin the chance of the Canadiens making a Stanley Cup run, forcing Canada to turn their eyes over to Vancouver—the only hope Canada has left.
When people told me the Montreal Canadiens were going to beat the Washington Capitals I laughed, and when the Capitals took a 3-1 series lead with three games remaining and on their home ice, I knew my original prediction may have been wrong game wise (Capitals in FIVE) but I was laughing even harder.
One thing not many people saw coming was the Canadiens coming back and winning the series by stealing three straight games. Don't get me wrong, with Canada in my blood, there was nothing more that I wanted to see than Montreal move on and not leave Canada's only hope for the Cup in the hands of the Canucks.
Well, they've taken a bigger step than any other team in the 2010 playoffs by knocking off the Washington Capitals, who easily had the best record in the NHL.
To get to the Stanley Cup, the Capitals knew if they kept winning series, they had the home-ice advantage that is oh' so important. Montreal took that away and no longer does the Stanley Cup go through the capital of the United States.
Now, it's got to go through something that may be even more daunting as in the East, it travels through Pittsburgh; the defending Stanley Cup Champs.When Montreal surprised the entire NHL by knocking off the Capitals, it sent all Habs fans into a frenzy but no player on the Canadiens has time to celebrate (except for their post-game on ice celebration) because they know they have to start preparing to beat Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
Beating the Capitals was big, actually it was huge, but beating the Penguins is going to be that much harder. After all, they're the two-time Eastern Conference defending champions and defending Stanley Cup Champs, and not to mention playing much better hockey than Washington had to this point in the playoffs.
It's pretty crazy that the Canadiens knocked off the Capitals because prior to game seven, only four players on the 20-player roster (Kostitsyn, Gill, Moen and O'Byrne) had a plus-minus rating that wasn't in the negatives—insane. The main reason for that has been because of the horrific play of the Canadiens goalies.
Carey Price's goal against average and save percentage in the two games he played in were horrendous compared to his stats during the regular season and even Jaroslav Halak hasn't been himself (although he had one of the best Montreal playoff performance in game six against the Caps and followed it up with a stellar game seven,) there is no question he's been better than Price. If Halak can play like he did late in the series, the Canadiens have a chance.
To be quite honest, the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't have had a better round one out-come considering they were the only high seed to move forward in each series and they've watched the Capitals, Devils and Sabres all trade in their hockey equipment for their golf clubs.
The Habs certainly didn't move onto the second round because of their goal tending, even though late in the series it was a HUGE factor but when facing the Penguins, that is going to cause massive problems for Montreal.
I don't care if he's played a couple stellar games— do it through-out an entire series before I crown your ass. Montreal moved on with Halak playing phenomenal late in the series but it's also been players up front such as Cammalleri, Plekanec, Kostitsyn, Gionta as well as defense-men Markov, Hamrlik, Spacek chipping in offensively. Gorges, Gill and O'Byrne were big reasons the Capitals didn't run away with the series as they played solid defence and will need to continue to help out Halak in the Habs want to move forward.
One thing is a given, and it's that the Canadiens want to contend for the Eastern Confernce Championship but they have their hands full and have bit off more than they can chew with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
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