Pittsburgh Penguins-Montreal Canadiens: Habs Mount Comeback, Tie Series
Montreal 3 Pittsburgh 2 (Bell Centre) The series is tied 2-2.
"Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." — Sir Winston Churchill
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a formidable opponent with names like Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and Gonchar and a huge favorite in this playoff series. The Canadiens are without their best player, Andrei Markov. The Habs had to overcome another obstacle tonight, the referees.
Yet, win two of the next three games, one in Pittsburgh, and the Canadiens are through to the third round of the playoffs. Do we dare think that far ahead? Win only 10 more games, and...
No, wait. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Habs fans have approached this playoff season one game at a time. It's not time to change. But knowing that the ultimate goal is close should serve to motivate players and fans. It doesn't suffice to go no further.
I've been mildly annoyed with Habs fans who seemed satisfied once the team eliminated the Washington Capitals. But as the Canadiens' players demand more and believe in themselves, their supporters will follow along even against overwhelming odds.
It was a good start with Tom Pyatt squeaking a shot from a bad angle through the pads of Marc-Andre Fleury just over two minutes into the game. It was a soft goal allowed by Fleury but just what the doctor ordered after the Canadiens failed to bulge the twine in Game Three.
It wouldn't take long for the shenanigans to begin. Within the next three minutes, there would be two non-calls against the Penguins, a weak penalty to Hal Gill, and two goals for Pittsburgh.
The momentum of the game shifted, and Pittsburgh would have help from the guys in stripes in keeping it that way for two periods. Montreal was limited to three shots in the second period for the fifth time in their last six playoff games.
“We knew in that second intermission that we probably had played our worst two periods of the playoffs,” said Brian Gionta. “So to be down one goal, we knew we had a chance to steal a game.”
The challenge was daunting entering the third period.
Pittsburgh had won four straight road playoff games. The Habs had lost seven of their last eight home playoff games. Crosby and the Penguins had a record of 25-0 when leading after two periods in playoff games.
Never give up.
Despite being heavily outshot for the first 40 minutes, the Canadiens would seize the lead after two goals in the first four minutes of period three.
Two key penalty kills in the third period, good goaltending, and solid defense gave the Habs a emotional comeback win.
"To go down 3-1 to a team like that would have been an uphill battle. It was kind of a must-win game for us," said Gionta.
Jaroslav Halak had a rough start giving up two goals on two shots. He didn't look sharp on the second Pittsburgh goal. Puck handling was particularly horrendous tonight. He was fortunate on several occasions that his mistakes were not converted by Penguins' scorers.
But Halak had a chance to redeem himself, making 24 saves in the first two periods. He had several terrific saves in the second and third.
Giving Halak the opportunity to take the game-ending bows was Fortress Habs. They were superb again tonight blocking shots, clearing rebounds and keeping shooters to the perimeter. Ryan O'Byrne and Hall Gill combined for 15 of the 23 blocked shots by the Habs.
Josh Gorges had one of his best games of the playoffs effectively helping to control Sidney Crosby. Crosby is now scoreless in his last eight visits to the Bell Centre. Roman Hamrlik had one of his better games, playing more than 21 minutes and blocking three shots.
P.K. Subban played like the rookie that he is and showed why it was prudent to let him develop in Hamilton all season. The Penguins have clearly made adjustments to pressure Subban, and he is finding that AHL moves are risky in the big league. Subban will also have to do a better job managing his shift length, close to the longest on the team.
In a postgame interview, it was refreshing to hear Subban acknowledge that he didn't play well tonight and that he was using the mistakes as a learning experience.
Offensive pressure came from the usual sources. Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, and Scott Gomez combined for 12 of the 25 shots by the Canadiens. But in addition to Gionta's goal, it was the role players who chipped in tonight with Pyatt and Maxim Lapierre each getting one.
Jacques Martin said that by giving his fourth line more minutes, the rest of his forwards seemed fresher. He singled out depth as the biggest factor for the win. The coach made the announcement like he had just discovered plutonium.
"After two periods, we hadn't overextended anyone," said Martin.
So the Canadiens, who should be overwhelmed by superior opponents, have continued to work together and find ways to win.
“Once again I’ll go back to it—we’re not supposed to be here, no one picked us to,” said Cammalleri. “If we would say, ‘Let’s take two out of three going into Pittsburgh on Saturday,’ I’d say, ‘Why not?”’
Sounds good to me.
Game Five of the series will be played in Pittsburgh on Saturday night.
Rocket's three stars
1. Josh Gorges
2. Jaroslav Halak
3. Chris Kunitz
Special mention: Ryan O'Byrne, Hal Gill, Tom Pyatt, Brian Gionta
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
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