Canadiens-Penguins, NHL Playoffs: Pens Fold as Habs Advance to Conference Finals
Unbelievable. Can you believe it?
Incredibly, unbelievably, unthinkably, the Montreal Canadiens defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 in what was the last game ever at Mellon Arena.
The victory clinched the best-of-seven series for the underdog Habs and sends them to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993—the year of their last Stanley Cup victory.
The Pens looked nervous and disorganized early in the game as they took bad penalties, missed defensive assignments, and let in bad goals.
The result was a 4-0 Habs lead early in the game.
Despite scoring twice to make it a 4-2 game and having several power-play opportunities, the Pens couldn't complete a comeback and the Habs took the game, 5-2.
The Canadiens got goals from Brian Gionta (2), Michael Cammalleri (his 12th of the playoffs in 14 games), Dominic Moore (he scored in the last Game Seven, too), and Travis Moen. The Pens responded with goals by Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal.
Final Score: Habs 5, Pens 2. Habs win the best-of-seven series, 4-3.
While I usually write about what certain players did well and what others did not do so well, I want to focus on the Habs as a whole today.
The Canadiens are playing like a team right now. Like one collective unit. To a man, the Habs have everyone pulling in the same direction, and the ones who aren't are either healthy scratches or see little-to-no ice time.
While we all know that the Canadiens still need eight more wins if they are going to claim the Stanley Cup, and that doing so is far from a foregone conclusion, this team is eerily similar to the one that won it all in 1993.
In '93, the 102-point Habs played the 104-point Quebec Nordiques in the first round of the playoffs.
After falling behind 2-0 in that series, something changed for the Canadiens.
The team seemed to come together in a way that they never had over the course of that season. As such, they started playing like one five-man unit no matter who was on the ice.
While they had their scoring leaders in Kirk Muller, Vincent Damphousse, and Brian Bellows, they were, to a large degree, a team that scored by committee.
Led by the outstanding goaltending of Patrick Roy, the Canadiens seemed to have a new hero emerging every night, with memorable goals by Gilbert Dionne, Benoit Brunet, Guy Carbonneau, and others.
Once they had turned the corner against the Nordiques, the Habs never looked back. They had a confidence in their abilities that was unwavering, and it led them to the Promised Land.
This year, we are seeing shades of the same phenomenon.
Since going down 3-1 in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals, something has changed with this team, and it starts with the coaching.
As much as I have criticized Jacques Martin's rigidness over the course of the season, he has been employing a very different methodology since Game Five against the Caps.
No longer does he just roll four lines and give everyone a chance, but Coach Martin does not hesitate to shorten his bench and reward players who are playing well on any given night.
This is evidenced by the over 29 minutes of ice time that rookie sensation P.K. Subban saw in Game Six versus the Pens.
Also, like the team in '93, the 2010 Habs are led by an outstanding goaltender. While his counterpart, Marc-Andre Fleury, was horrible last night and let in three bad goals, Jaroslav Halak was called upon to do his part in the third period with the score 4-2.
As the Pens pressed on the power play, Halak stoned Sidney Crosby and then, a few shifts later, Evgeni Malkin from in close.
Like the '93 team, the Canadiens' scoring this year is led by a handful of players—Cammalleri, Gionta, Scott Gomez, and Tomas Plekanec. Also like the '93 team, the current edition is getting timely contributions from the supporting cast—Maxim Lapierre has three goals, Dominic Moore has three more, Travis Moen has two, and Tom Pyatt has one goal.
However, the most important factor in the Habs' recent success is that this team clearly believes when many others do not. They have a solid dressing room and, like when at war, each man is sacrificing for the other.
The result, so far, has been that their combination of structure and cohesiveness has allowed them to compete with, and get the better of, more skilled opponents.
We won't know who the Canadiens' third-round opponent is until tomorrow night's Game Seven between the Bruins and the Flyers is over.
I think that the way this team is playing, it almost makes no difference who their opponent is because they believe. They believe in themselves and in each other and feel that they can compete with any team in the league.
The way they are playing right now, it's hard to disagree with that. The Canadiens are so tight that I believe that they'll play well against any opponent.
Whether they win or not, it is yet to be seen whether they will advance past the next round, and winning a potential 25th Stanley Cup—as some are starting to talk about—is still a long way away.
But suffice it to say that after pulling off two of the most stunning upsets of our generation over the first two rounds, I have two words for you all:
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