It's no secret that the Washington Capitals, who finished 33 points ahead on Montreal, had a lot more skill and pedigree for success. That didn't stop the Habs from pulling a huge seven game upset over the President Trophy team.
Dig a little deeper and how did the better team (on paper) not win?
- Jaroslav Halak. Starts and stops with the goalie. Halak stopped 130 of 133 shots in the last three games. That's amazing, especially against a high-powered Washington team.
- Shot blocking. The Habs blocked an incredible 173 shots in the seven game series (led by former Penguin Hal Gill's 31). That's almost 25 shots per game blocked!
- Penalty kill. Washington had the #1 PP through the regular season, but they'd score on just 1 of 33 power-plays, including in the final minutes of game seven. This ties in to the Halak and shot blocking factor, but Montreal's PK has been out of this world.
- Best forwards scoring. Michael Cammalleri scored 5 goals (1 game winner), 5 assists in the seven games. Tomas Plekenac had 7 points (4g, 3a), and Andrei Kostitsyn had 6 points (3g, 3a). The numbers don't jump off the page, but Montreal's most skilled players produced points when they needed it.
So how do the Penguins defeat this defensive buzzsaw?
- Get to Halak. The Caps actually did this: they scored 6 goals in Game 2, and then scored 3 more in the first 28:33 of Game 3 to chase Halak away until Game 5. While Halak absolutely buckled down, he still yielded 14 goals in parts of six games and showed that he can be beaten.
- Don't shoot blockable shots. It seems elementary: if there's no shooting lane, don't let Gill or Gorges absorb the shoot. The Caps played a very straight forward style and were willing to hold the puck a lot of times and look for rubber to net, rather than getting bodies their first a lot of times.
- Make the PP count. Get a few power play goals and that puts bugs in the head of Halak and the rest of a team. Just as soon as a goalie can go red hot, he can go ice cold. Especially for a youngster like Halak in his first NHL playoff action.
- Puck and zone control. It's amazing that with all the puck control, zone time and movement the Caps had offensively that they did not beat Montreal. They had a couple of near misses (posts, crossbars, just wides, etc) that could be bad luck. The Caps certainly had a lot of play in the other end, but the Habs bent but didn't break. Can the Pens put a little more pressure on and get a bounce or two that Washington didn't?
The rest factor will be huge. Off the emotional high of winning a game seven on the road, holding on for dear life, Montreal may be a little weary; sort of like Carolina seemed last year in a similiar circumstance. Or they still could be in that "zone" and keep rolling. Time will tell, and we'll find out soon.
Pens fans may be still rejoicing that a nemises in Washington is gone, but not so fast my friends, the same team that just neutralized them now has the Penguins in their sights and will be looking to do the exact same. Most experts won't give Montreal a chance, but then again, hardly anyone called their first upset.
Buckle up. And Go Pens.