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Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The Bell Centre isn't the historic Montreal Forum. It has only been around for 14 years and has already changed its name. Its tenant, the Montreal Canadiens, has won 24 Stanley Cups, but none since they relocated on March 16, 1996. Les Habitants aren't the dynasty of years past, but let's be clear, one thing hasn't changed. The fans in Montreal bring it. Every game. Hockey is the loom that weaves the French and English speaking Quebecois together, and what could top hosting a playoff game against the defending champs captained by league and Canadian poster boy Sidney Crosby?
The twenty-one thousand and change in attendance on Tuesday night brought it big time. Penguins announcer Mike Lange asked his radio audience if they could hear him because he couldn't hear himself. That energy carried over to their beloved bleu, blanc et rouge who came out flying. No Jordan Staal (lacerated tendon), no Billy Guerin (illness), and a smoking hot opposing goalie in Jaroslav Halak didn't breed optimism in the Penguins' faithful. The first twenty minutes only heightened their concern.
But, to the fans chagrin, the two guys I have pointed to as being the keys to another successful Cup run for the defenders brought it as well. Marc-Andre Fleury stoned P.K. Subban in the first, Mike Cammalleri early in the third, robbed Tomas Plekanec late and made fifteen other saves to post his fourth career playoff shutout. For all the heat that Fleury takes from a portion of his own fanbase, he consistently makes the big save and comes through when the Penguins need him most. He gives up more soft goals than one would like. His GAA and save percentage aren't among the league leaders. But he's been to consecutive Cup finals and if he can help the Pens return again this year, he will be the first goalie to backstop a team to three straight finals appearances since 1983. Fleury is rarely the belle of the ball and tonight he might not even have been the belle of the Bell as Halak continued his own spectacular play. But it's about results. Fleury gets them.
Teammate Evgeni Malkin finally shifted gears and played at the level that earned him the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP a year ago. Geno exasperates with his up and down performances, but at his best his peer group wouldn't make up a complete foursome on the first tee. During the last 40 minutes he was the best skater on the ice, dominating at both ends and attempting to make sure the Penguins don't have to worry about tee times for at least another couple of weeks.
After being off the scoresheet the past four games, Malkin netted the game winner early in the third period. His power play marker came off a beautiful pass from countryman Sergei Gonchar as he posted up at his favorite spot just above the right circle and ripped a slapper past Halak. Malkin spent two years living with Gonchar when he first moved to Pittsburgh and they worked on that pass countless times in Gonch's backyard. The practice paid off for the duos' fourth power play goal in this year's playoffs and proved to be all Fleury needed at the other end. Pascual Dupuis' empty netter put a ribbon on the 2-0 victory and the Penguins moved back ahead in the series two games to one.
The Penguins are now 4-0 on the road in this year's playoffs and will look to make it five on Thursday. With Staal's injury apparently not as serious as first feared, Justin Leopold returning from concussion and continued strong play from depth guys like Jay McKee and Mark Letestu all appears to be in place for the Pittsburghers to continue playing into June. If Fleury and Malkin are in top form as they were Tuesday night the Penguins might inaugurate their own new building this fall with the banner that the raucous fans in Montreal have yet to see their faithful earn in the Bell Centre.