PITTSBURGH - APRIL 30: Brian Gionta #21 of the Montreal Canadiens skates by as the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate a goal by Craig Adams #27 of the Penguins in the second period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 30, 2010 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Entering tonight the question was would the Montreal Canadiens be in a zone, fresh off their previous big series upset? Would the Pittsburgh Penguins be rested or rusted six days after their last game? Could Jaroslav Halak keep it up?
No, a little and no, respectively.
After Montreal killed 32 of 33 penalties last series (against the league's #1 PP, no less) the Pittsburgh Penguins scored 4 power play goals and made it look relatively easy, in chasing a clearly worn down Halak.
The Habs actually started out with the lead, P.K. Subban took a point shot that snuck through Mark Eaton and avoided Marc-Andre Fleury to open the scoring just about 4 minutes into the series. Pittsburgh was showing a little rust early but shook it off four minutes later when Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar batted the puck around until Gonchar got it and drilled it by Halak.
Three minutes later Montreal took two penalties, the Pens took one and took a power play. The first unit failed, but then Alexei Ponikarovsky made a nice centering pass to Jordan Staal who hesitated just long enough to pull a sliding defenseman out of position and roofed a puck over Halak, giving the Pens a lead they'd never give back.
Early in the second period the Canadiens got rung up for a too many men on the ice penalty (which the refs are absolutely buckling down on this post-season) and Sidney Crosby found Kris Letang who finally hit a top corner. 3-1 Pens. With about 5 minutes left in the second the Habs would get it back, Scott Gomez made an excellent behind the net pass to Mike Cammalleri who one-timed it by Fleury.
Craig Adams would do what he does best and score a big post-season goal. Pascal Dupuis found Adams all alone and the Harvard grad made no mistake to put Pittsburgh up 4-2 going into the third period. Brian Gionta messed up early in the 3rd when he flipped the puck off the surface, giving the Pens a PP. Crosby found Alex Goligoski who one-timed a low shot that Halak tried to glove for some reason.
That would be about enough for Halak, who was out of his element. Jacques Martin would leave him in for the next whistle before giving Carey Price the shoulder. Price would make 3 saves on 3 shots in the final 14 minutes, but he wouldn't be tested. Finally, as a last ditch effort Montreal pulled their goalie and that old, drunk bastard Bill Guerin buried it empty net style.
Pens take Game 1.
- The Pens weren't sharp early (6 days off will do it) but they clearly have a lot in the tank. Montreal, after a trying physical and emotional series, appeared not to. It'll be a quick bounce back to Game 2 Sunday afternoon. One has to wonder if Halak and the Habs have enough left.
- Injuries always play a factor in the playoffs and we perhaps saw two significant ones to two significant players tonight. Matt Cooke cleanly finished a check (believe it or not) on Andrei Markov --who saw it coming and had time to brace -- but appeared to hurt a knee or leg. Later in the game Subban got tangled with Jordan Staal who went down at center ice appearing to hurt a foot/ankle/leg of his own. It of course remains to be seen the severity of either.
- The Habs, as they usually do, dressed 11 forwards and 7 defensemen (with defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron usually in the role of PP specialist). So even though Markov went down early, it wasn't like they were out of usual position, even if they had to re-shuffle roles.
- For all the talk of the Canadiens' shot blocking prowess, they only were able to get in front of 15 tonight. The Pens got 22 of their own.
- Jay McKee looks really old, really slow and is making bad decisions -- or is just unable to make the plays. It's impossible (and a terrible idea) to rush a player back from a concussion, but hopefully Jordan Leopold can return to the lineup as soon as possible.
- Sidney Crosby took an accidental high-stick that the refs missed, received stitches to his chin, and returned to the game to tally points. Leader. Winnner. Champion. Zigtech.
- Is hell freezing over or does NHL.com say that Evgeni Malkin won 6 of his 7 faceoffs (81%)? Without even checking, I guarantee you that his best numbers of the season. Malkin didn't score, but had a great breakaway chance in the 3rd period when he tried to pick a corner and missed the net. More than OK to do that when you're up a couple of goals.
- For as often as we're wont to critcize Mike Yeo's power play, let's tip our hats tonight. At least to the players. Halak and the Habs were unbelievable against the high-powered Caps in this area, almost too good to be true. Tonight they looked like Cinderella at about 12:05 AM. Out of luck, out of time and in deep, deep trouble.
To put it bluntly, the Pittsburgh Penguins controlled the game, took advantage of all the mistakes (like too many men, delay of game, etc) and made Halak look like a tired goalie that has nothing left to give. Luckily, there's no rest as the teams go again for Game 2 in less than 36 hours.
A team can't win or lose a series in 2 games, but they certainly can set a tone. The Penguins are halfway there to taking complete control. Foot on the throats, boys, foot on the throat.