As the old saying goes, to become a champion you have to defeat the champion. The Montreal Canadiens won the seventh and final encounter with the defending champions Pittsburgh Penguins this Wednesday evening at the Mellon Arena.
The Cinderella Canadiens struck early in this match when Brian Gionta deflected P.K. Subban's shot in behind Marc-Andre Fleury, who had a very difficult outing. Fleury allowed four goals on 14 shots. Dominic Moore doubled the Canadiens' lead before the end of the first frame.
The Canadiens extended their lead to four goals early into the second period. Michael Cammalleri, with his 12th goal of the playoffs, and Travis Moen, shorthanded, chased goaltender Fleury out of the series.
The Penguins did try to creep back into this game, but it was too little too short. Jaroslav Halak allowed two goals before the end of the second period, but stood tall in the eye of the tornado. Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal lifted the champions' hopes for a moment, bringing the Penguins within 2.
The story of those 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Halak, pulled some more tricks out of his hat in the third period. The Slovak goaltender was stellar during the successive man advantages awarded to Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will probably experience nightmares this summer courtesy of Halak.
Brian Gionta, with his second goal of the night, relieved some pressure on Halak. With that goal, the Canadiens broke the champions' spirits and sailed on to this fantastic victory.
Final score: Montreal Canadiens 5 - Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (Montreal wins the series by 4-3.)
The Canadiens reach the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1993. They will face the winner of the Boston-Philadelphia series.
The elimination of the Penguins also marks the end of the Mellon Arena era. A number of fantastic moments, players, and memories took part in that building. The Canadiens' fans can now brag about opening and closing the Mellon Arena with a victory.
I cannot wait to follow the continuation of this fantastic journey of my favorite hockey club. The way that the team eliminated both the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins is not going unnoticed, and the story is only getting bigger and bigger.
Halfway towards the Grail, the pause will not last long until round No. 3 opens.
(Picture: Michael Cammalleri, Getty Images.)