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Game 3 Recap: A big collapse. Penguins lose big lead, fall behind in the series to Montreal

The Penguins were up 3-1, but lose 4-3 after a big collapse in Game 3.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images


Somewhat of a surprise for the Penguins, they make a lineup change. Sam Lafferty is in the game for his first taste of NHL post-season action, replacing Jared McCann as a center of the “third” line (even though it’s kinda more like a fourth line in ice time at this point).

The Canadiens have one bottom six change as well for this game. Jake Evans replaces Jordan Weal on the fourth line, but otherwise Montreal keeps the same lines and combos.

First period

The Pens don’t get the strong starts they did in the first two games. Montreal comes back on the rush strong after Jack Johnson can’t hold the puck in at the offensive blue-line (because why would he!). Matt Murray kicks out one save, Artturi Lehkonen comes into the crease area and Murray spins around, and the puck ends up with Shea Weber standing with a wide open net and not a Pittsburgh defender in the same area code. Weber fires it into the empty cage to make it 1-0 Habs.

But wait, the Pens challenge pretty quickly, for Lehkonen interfering on Murray. The contact is slight, but there. Also kinda unavoidable and not really the cause of the goal. After a brief review they officials don’t buy what the Pens are selling. Goal counts. Pittsburgh assessed a penalty for delay of game for the faulty challenge.

They kill it off to avoid going down 2-0 before the first TV timeout.

Pittsburgh roars back, great chances by the Sidney Crosby line, including a bonkers save by Carey Price on Jake Guentzel off a tip on a point shot and Ben Chiarot does what he does (uses the stick as a weapon) and gets called for slashing to give the Pens’ their first power play of the game.

And the Pens....score? Patric Hornqvist gets buried into the boards (and the refs are about to make another call) when Evgeni Malkin slap shots a pass to him. Despite it being an 100 mile an hour pass, and despite Hornqvist not exactly be “Mr. Handle a puck”, he corrals it perfectly and shoots quickly at a sharp angle from distance and scores. Gotta love the power of being pissed about getting dumped head first into the boards. 1-1 game.

The Habs remain shorthanded, due to that pending call I guess, and the Pens’ power play is now in full “Hulk Hogan in comeback mode” at this point and the second group scores when Price can’t track through traffic a nice little pass that Bryan Rust bumps over for Jason Zucker. Just under a minute from the first goal and just like that it’s 2-1 Pens.

Holy cow just look again at that shot placement and velocity by Zucker. It’s total upper 90 as they say in soccer. Beauty of a job. Price couldn’t track it due to having Patrick Marleau all up in his grill, but even if he could, that’s a goal scorer’s goal.

Seven seconds left, Conor Sheary swings a stick into a Canadiens’ chest and he jumps to the ground drawing a power play for Montreal without even the theatrics of 20,000 MTL fans booing to draw a non-call. Feel cheated on that one not getting the whole Montreal home team experience while still getting the penalty against.

Shots in the first are 14-11 Pittsburgh. At 5v5 shots are 10-9 MTL. But the big difference in this game so far has been the Pens’ power play which has amazingly lurched back to life and scored two big time goals to make the score 2-1 in favor of the Pens.

Second period

The Pens kill off the remaining penalty then later strike again with the buzzsaw. Victor Mete fumbles the puck at his blueline and scrambles back to recover but Brandon Tanev is on him like a bat out of hell. Tanev muscles Mete off the puck and sets Zach Aston-Reese up for a chance. Carey Price makes the leg save but leaves a rebound. Valiant Teddy Blueger crashes the net, gets taken down but steers in the puck for his first career playoff goal. 3-1 Pens about six minutes into the second.

John Marino gets called for a penalty and Montreal gets their third power play of the night. They don’t score and Sidney Crosby passes to Guentzel for another great chance but Price stops them.

Montreal doesn’t go away, Chiarot throws a puck to the net and Jonathan Drouin out-positions Justin Schultz and tips it in. 3-2 game.

Two injuries next with Tanev crunching Evans into the boards and later Jeff Petry cross-checks Hornqvist in the wrist after a whistle.

Malkin goes to the box for a tripping a call and MTL gets a fourth powerplay. They ding the post but don’t score there. They do soon after when Jack Johnson can’t track with Paul Byron who wraps around the net and puts a second chance in past Murray. 3-3 game with 4:10 left in the second.

Shots in the second are 13-11 MTL, 25-24 Pens overall. All tied up at 3 on the scoreboard for a critical third period.

Third period

Aston-Reese takes a roughing penalty and sends Montreal to their fourth straight power play (and fifth overall). They hit the post again but don’t score. But for a second time soon after the power play they do score. Petry has the puck for a while, outwaits Murray and then ramps a puck off his shoulder and helmet and to the top of the net. 4-3 Montreal has their first lead of the night.

The Pens don’t push back all that much going down, but finally get a third power play chance when Byron goes with just 3:32 left. Pittsburgh doesn’t score, pulls Murray for a 6v4 and later a 6v5 but still can’t come close and the Montreal comeback.

Some thoughts

  • Lafferty in for McCann, huh? Not surprised the Pens were looking for a spark. Lafferty over Evan Rodrigues, well that’s a different story we’ll have more time later to sink some teeth into. The move didn’t pay off early — through one period Pittsburgh was 0 Corsi Events For, 8 Corsi Against (including a goal) with this line. Lafferty laid a big check in the period, and he flashes a bit like that, but overall he just doesn’t move the needle long-term right now as anything better than replacement level. (Rodrigues on the other hand....OK, we’ll save it for later).
  • Lafferty didn’t quite get benched, but might as well have been after the first goal against, too. Only played 1:46 in the second period and 2:30 in the third.
  • I didn’t mind Sullivan challenging the early goal against. There was some contact with the goalie near the crease. Who knows what the NHL will say when that happens and it goes to review. Also, consider that the video team feeding Sullivan the information has a really good and trustworthy track record, especially in the playoffs. So if you’re Sullivan and Andy Saucier buzzes in and says “I think we should challenge”, no problem here with doing it without hesitation, which Sullivan did. He didn’t see a replay or think it over, that challenge came in quickly. That’s a sign of trust, and it’s well-deserved.
  • That said, I also think a reasonable person would say that type of play is and should be a good goal. Still, when Montreal has a not-very-good power play, hey risk the penalty. Worst case, you just go kill it off or still have 55 minutes to comeback from 0-2 hole if they score there. Best case, you get the goal reversed, or 85-90% chance of killing the penalty (which..the Pens did) and have something to rally around. And does it plant a seed to the refs for you? Maybe, maybe not, but it can’t hurt. That’s a good cost/benefit scenario on an iffy play.
  • Dreadful performance after going up 3-1. Pens let way up as if that would be enough. It wasn’t. Many scapegoats after a bad game, the whole team just wasn’t good. Definitely some wind taken out of the sails with the Johnson/Schultz pair getting touched up for multiple goals against and not doing anything positive. Win as a team, lose as a team, certainly it’s not one person’s fault, but it becomes harder to win when one pair gets hidden with limited icetime (just 10:57 at ES for Johnson with 3 goals against) and still get burnt.
  • Murray got hung out to dry a few times, in a perfect world he seals off the entire net on the game winner. But it was still an instance where an unmarker player had all day on his strong side to wind up, pick a spot and shoot unencumbered.

Things we were watching for

In the game preview, we highlighted three items to watch, let’s see how it shaped out.

#1: My kingdom for a viable power play

—Hoo boy. The Pens’ power play went 2/2 on their first two attempts, and just in time since they were down 1-0 at the time. And are you surprised it was Malkin making a great pass and Hornqvist being the emotional catalyst of the team to convert? Probably not if you’ve watched a Pittsburgh game recently. Also a very sweet play by Rust, who is quietly blossoming as a productive and efficient power play player. And that Jason Zucker, what can you say about him? Good things happen when he gets the puck. But then, no power plays for almost 47 minutes of game time until late in the 3rd. In a way that is on the team not to earn a penalty by letting up.

#2: Is this the night the offenses come to life?

—With six goals in the first two periods, it was a night where there was offense. The Pens’ PP woke up, but then the team went dormant just in time for pesky Montreal to stick around and keep digging and make the most of their chances.

#3: Geno the Machine-o time

Malkin fired a pass to Hornqvist with authority for his first point of the playoffs as an assist. Otherwise though, this was the worst game of the playoffs for Malkin. He only had 2 shots on goal. He took a penalty. He was a -2 on the night. He couldn’t get anything going in the 3rd period. It’s not all on him, but there was an opportunity for Malkin to step it up more and he didn’t come through.

And now, the Penguins are on the brink after losing two of three to Montreal. It’s a bad spot to be in, but not an undeserved one. Still, they’re not out yet even though everything feels bad now in a last 30 minutes of the game where they got outscored 3-0 and looked very sluggish. Can’t do that yet, but hey, finish business and earn a win on Friday and that could carry momentum into a winner take all on Saturday. Or just fade away and lose to a team they don’t have much business losing to. From coaching decisions to player performance, just about everyone has to look in the mirror after this one.