For all of the Pens fans who have argued with me since this series started that the Canadiens were a write off, a team that couldn't even skate in the same rink as the Pens, consider this your wake-up call.
In beating the Pens 4-3 at the Bell Centre last night, the Canadiens have done the improbable two rounds in a row, in forcing a higher seed to a decisive Game Seven.
And while the Pens have been here many times before and they are not about to lie down for the Canadiens, make no mistake that the pressure is squarely on their shoulders.
After Michael Cammalleri opened the scoring on a beautiful give-and-go with Tomas Plekanec, the Pens stormed back to take a 2-1 lead.
Undaunted, and buoyed by the frenzied Montreal crowd, the Canadiens roared back and dominated large stretches of play with Maxim Lapierre scoring the winning goal in the third.
Jaroslav Halak faced 37 shots on the night and stopped 34 for the win.
The Habs got two goals from Cammalleri (10th and 11th) and one each from Jaroslav Spacek (first) and Maxim Lapierre (third). The Pens goals were scored by Sidney Crosby—his first of the series and sixth of the playoffs—Kris Letang (fifth) and Bill Guerin (fourth).
Final score: Habs 4 - Pens 3. The series is tied 3-3.
1. Halak's record when facing 35 or more shots against is now 16-0-1.
That is an absolutely insane stat and one that keeps getting updated seemingly game after game. There's not really too much more to say about Halak that has not already been said except that yesterday was the first time that Halak has let in a bad goal in a long time.
The second goal by the Pens, by Kris Letang, was a bullet of a slapshot from about 30 feet out, with no one screening Halak and there was no deflection on the play. Yet as Halak came out to stop the puck, it seemed to squeeze under his arm and dribble into the net.
You're not going to score many goals like that against Halak, so the Pens will take it!
2. Michael Cammalleri continues to lead the offensive charge for the Habs.
In scoring two more goals last night, Cammalleri now has 11 goals in the 13 playoff games he has played. That is also an incredible stat.
Cammalleri is fourth in playoff scoring with 16 points—three less than Crosby—and is first in goals scored—two more than Joe Pavelski's nine.
For all of the doubt surrounding this guy in the offseason and all the questions of whether he "could do it" without Jarome Iginla by his side, Cammalleri is showing that he can not only do it, but he can do it all by himself.
3. Welcome back, Jaroslav Spacek!
After missing the last nine games with an inner-ear/vertigo problem, the Canadiens got some well-needed defensive reinforcement last night in the form of Spacek.
Paired with his countryman, Roman Hamrlik, Spacek saw a cool 18:25 of ice time including six seconds on the power play where he scored the go ahead goal, making the score 3-2.
While Spacek had a tenuous early shift or two, he quickly settled into a groove making excellent defensive plays, great first passes, and overall bolstering the Habs' back end immensely.
The ancillary benefit of having Spacek back was that Roman Hamrlik played one of his best games of the series. Those two make an excellent second pairing for the Habs and it showed last night.
4. The "Little Pest That Could" is back.
Playing just over 13 minutes last night and scoring another third period goal—his third of the playoffs—Maxim Lapierre showed that he can still be an effective third-line player for the Habs.
Remember that it was Lapierre who scored the tying goal in Game Four which started the Habs comeback win.
Lapierre seems to have rediscovered the confidence that made him one of the best third-line centers in the league last year.
Not surprisingly, the recipe is very simple for Max: move you feet and not your lips, and good things will happen.
The one thing Lapierre continues to do poorly is taking bad penalties at bad times and it is hurting his team.
Yesterday, with the game tied at one, Lapierre took a bad offensive zone holding penalty on Alex Goligoski. While the Pens didn't score, it turned the momentum in their direction and they were on the board a few minutes late to make it a 2-1 game.
Someone needs to tell Lapierre that he is only effective when he is moving his feet and that he should leave the rest of his antics at the door.
His goal last night was a thing of beauty as he used his size, speed, and soft hands to undress the Pens defender. Here, take a look for yourself:
(video does not display on BR.com. Please go to http://www.HabsAddict.com to see the video)
Look Out Ahead!
So now what? This wasn't supposed to happen right? Just like it wasn't supposed to happen against the Caps in Round One. But here we are, about 36 hours away from Game Seven in Pittsburgh.
With the Pens' Mellon Arena being retired at the end of this season, will this be the last game in that building? Will the Pens, who have been here before and know what it takes to win, come out like lions and beat the Canadiens? Or, will the pressure that is on their shoulders start to suffocate them if they go down early?
Whatever happens, it is sure to be one of the best games of this series and maybe even the playoffs.
For the Habs, there is the added possibility that they have both Hal Gill and Andrei Markov back in the lineup for tomorrow night's game.
Having one or both of those players back in the lineup would be a huge boost for the Habs and might be enough to push them over the top.
Keep in mind that including last night's game, the Habs are 4-0 when facing elimination so far in the playoffs. And, they have shown us all that they believe in themselves and believe that they can win.
With an almost guaranteed minor amount of doubt that must be in the Pens' heads, that could be the difference between winning and losing the series.
The teams now fly back to Pittsburgh for a one shot, one-and-done, winner-takes-all affair on Wednesday.
Will the Pens be going back to the conference finals for a third time in three years or will the Habs be going there for the first time since 1993?
Tune in Wednesday for what is sure to be a spectacular game.
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