15-5, 1.93 GAA, .930 save percentage, with 2 shutouts. Those sterling numbers are Marc-Andre Fleury, the game after a playoff loss. Tonight only a trickler from Mike Cammalleri with about 30 seconds left on a 6-on-4 power play (with Montreal pulling their goalie) prevented a shutout. Otherwise Fleury was perfect on 32 of 33 shots.
The Penguins opened the scoring at the end of the first when Evgeni Malkin dropped a pass for Kris Letang on the PP who blasted it by Jaroslav Halak, screened by the returning Bill Guerin. Pittsburgh was carrying all the momentum and controling the play at the end of the first period. Until Chris Kunitz got stuck with a cross-checking penalty after the buzzer ended the period.
The Canadiens, as we have learned, are a frustrating and opportunistic opponent. They'll take advantage when they can. Montreal only had 6 shots in the entire first period, yet in the first two minutes and change they piled on for 5 shots, sensing their chance to even the score. Fleury and the Pens held the fort and they'd strike again in the second.
The second goal was a total five man effort. It began with Malkin wheeling around the offensive zone like his hair was on fire. He fired a shot on net that Halak saved but Mark Letestu picked up and gave to Mike Rupp. Rupp took it to the front but was covered, so he chipped it to Letestu who quickly swung a passback to Brooks Orpik. From his point position Orpik fed a cross-ice pass to Sergei Gonchar who blasted one of his one-timer slappers to the net. With three Hab skaters within stick distance to Halak it provided enough of a screen. A great goal that the whole unit contributed to. 2-0 Pens who were firmly in control.
Montreal, perhaps more than any team in these playoffs, plays a lot different when they are behind in a game, compared to when they have a lead. Obviously they have to press more and can't rely on strictly defense, like they are so good at doing. Fleury and the Pens had all the answers until Cammalleri ruined the shutout bid in the dying seconds of the game.
- Malkin was the best skater on the ice tonight. By a large measure. He had a lot of jump in his step, was controlling the puck about at-will at times and looking for his shots.
- The Canadiens suffered a big blow when Hal Gill left the game after being stepped on in the back of his left thigh area by Chris Kunitz. Kunitz was hit into Gill (after hitting Gill) by another player, there was no intent but his skate came down in an unfortunate -- and unintended-- place. Add in the goal he scored last game, and this marks the second time in as many games Kunitz's feet have had a bigger impact on the game than his hands. No word on Gill, who did not return to the game, but hopefully he's OK. Even though no Pen fan minded NOT seeing the big guy out there.
- Sidney Crosby's fighting through a goal-less streak, no doubt reminded by that all the time but the key word is fighting. Through the first two periods Sid attempted 5 shots and every one of them was blocked by a Montreal defenseman. Hopefully Crosby doesn't grip the stick too tight or press too hard, we'll see.
- Mark Letestu only played 7:41, but he stood out in a good way. He played very well, earning an assist on the Gonchar goal and getting a breakaway chance in the 3rd that Halak tharwted with his glove.
- Rupp made his case to stay in the lineup too: 4 big hits, a nice play on the Gonchar goal (but no assist) and springing Letestu on the above mentioned chance. He definitely added a lot in a limited role.
- Refereeing has been a headline issue and remains such after tonight. Most egriously Malkin came into the zone, got stood up by Josh Gorges and Geno threw the most minor of punches. Gorges grabbed his face, spun and fell, a job applauded by the most nefarious of soccer players out there. No more discussion of the Pens whining or grandstanding for calls from north of the border, plz.
- Again the big guys for Montreal are carrying the offensive burden: Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec combined for 15 of the team's 33 shots. While it's good for them that their best players are the ones generating chances, it doesn't seem like they're getting too much from down the lineup offensively.
- Speaking of that, Benoit Pouliot's ice time has dropped about every game of the series. Tonight he only skated 10 shifts for 5:59, including only one shift in the 3rd period when Montreal was trying to battle out of a two goal hole.
- Interesting stat: the Penguins were short-handed for 4:51 tonight. Brooks Orpik was on the ice for 3:28 of that.
- If you didn't know that Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky didn't play, would you have realized it? The two of them have been practically invisible and their absence was hardly noticable, which definitely doesn't speak well of their contributions at this point.
Series advantage Pens. Now we shift back to Montreal where the Habs will be up against elimination on Monday. It'll be nothing new for them, as they had their "backs to the wall" three straight games against Washington and played three of their strongest defensive games in that situation.
The fourth win is always the toughest and Pittsburgh will have to go into perhaps the most hostile of venues to get it. But it sure beats the alternative.