Montreal frustrated their way into the second round, and they used all the same tricks to win the game today. You know the drill: get badly outshot, collapse on Jaroslav Halak (and watch him make amazing saves), take advantage of mistakes and produce points, get a lead and hold on for dear life.
That's pretty much how it played out today. Matt Cooke struck first for Pittsburgh just 4:38 into the game, taking a nice pass from Maxime Talbot and took the puck strong to the net and pushed a backhander by Halak. It'd be the last time the Pens would beat him on this day. Before the first ended Scott Gomez made another great pass from behind the net to Brian Gionta and beat Marc-Andre Fleury. Brooks Orpik got turned around on the play and didn't provide good enough coverage there.
In the second period Mike Cammalleri batted a rebound off a P.K. Subban shot in on the power play. No clue what Kris Letang was doing there on this play.
Finally with just a few minutes left, Tomas Plekanec batted a Sidney Crosby pass out of mid-air, and quickly moved it to Cammalleri who had totally left Letang in his dust. Cammalleri snapped a perfect top-corner shot over Fleury's glove to end the scoring. 3-1 Habs. Ole, ole ole ole. Time to go to Montreal.
- The scoring doesn't tell the game story though: the Pens out-shot the Habs 39-21, including a 30-9 margin in the second and third periods. It was a classic 2010 Montreal game: get a lead, shut it down, pack it in, depend on Halak to bail 'em out --and he was up for the task.
- Think coach Jacques Martin was messing around? Take the "4th" line of Andrei "Big Tits" Kostitsyn, Mathieu Darche and Ben Maxwell. That unit was on the ice for the shift of Cooke's goal in the 1st period. Then they got one other shift in the first that ended when Ruslan Fedotenko took a penalty. That was it for all of them (though AK got 49 seconds more seconds on noe more shift in the the first). Montreal basically used 3 lines of forwards, mainly riding Gomez, Cammalleri, Gionta and Plekanec up front, all of whom played 20+ minutes.
- The refs didn't seem to call many penalties on Montreal (no conspiracy, just none in first two periods) but the Pens did get two chances in the third period, and couldn't tie it up.
- Jordan Staal's first non-game in 3+ years was noticeable. The Pens didn't seem to control things as much as they normally do. Two regulars returned from injury: Tyler Kennedy (5 shots on goal) and Jordan Leopold (15:55 played in a welcome return). Nice to see them back in the mix.
- Minus injured Andrei Markov, youngster P.K. Subban played 23:17 (second among MTL players behind Josh Gorges) today. In Game 1 he played 19:47, in his first two playoff games he got 10:50 and 10:02. It's the emergence of a great young player right before our very eyes, unfortunately.
- Craig Adams got tossed in the last minutes of the game for a check from behind on Marc-Andre Bergeron. Adams appeared to swoop in and attempt to minimize the "from behind" part, but he definitely did drop Bergeron into the boards and probably deserve the major and misconduct.
- Someone tell Alexei Ponikarovsky this is, in fact, the playoffs and it's OK to play with a little emotion or try to make a difference. Hate to pile on a guy, but he seems content to slowly skate on to the free agent market this summer.
- Matt Cooke is playing his best hockey of the season, now with 4 goals this playoffs. 3 more even strength goals than Evgeni Malkin has. Just sayin.
In the end the Penguins were left frustrated and fruitless by Montreal's clinging ability. We've seen before them fall back onto Halak and hang on for dear life to a lead, and they basically did the same. Now, the challenge. Does Pittsburgh keep up the same strategies, ramming their head against the stubborn wall, figuring it'll break soon? Or do they attempt to modify some personnel and tactics in an effort to defeat an opponent that doesn't quite stack up? Washington chose the former, and they didn't do enough to crack Halak. With two intense games coming up in the pressure cooker of Montreal, we'll see what Dan Bylsma and the Pens decide to do.