Half way through the first period, it looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins had picked up where they had left off the game before. In other words, they were running roughshod over the Montreal Canadiens.
And maybe that should have been a warning sign. The Penguins had scored the first goal of the game lead early when Matt Cooke, someone not known for his offensive prowess, got behind a confused looking Montreal defense. More important, Pittsburgh owned the ice to that point and for several minutes beyond by keeping the play almost exclusively in the Canadiens end.
They just didn’t put the visitors away. And as the Washington Capitals learned in the first round, letting the Canadiens hang around tends to create problems, the kind the Penguins may now be facing as they head back to Montreal with the series tied 1-1.
The 3-1 loss by Pittsburgh in and of itself shouldn’t be enough to cause a great deal of consternation for the defending Stanley Cup champions, despite the fact they have lost the home ice advantage they had starting this series. After all Pittsburgh did win all three road games it played in the first round of these playoffs against Ottawa and it had one of the league’s better travel records during the regular season.
But if the Canadiens have proven anything so far in these playoffs it is that they can make a great deal of minimal opportunities, especially when their goalie Jaroslav Halak is on his game. And now the Penguins seem to have provided them with one.
Halak struggled in the series opener on Friday, understandably so considering it was only 48 hours since he had completed a remarkable three-game winning streak that that saw him face 134 shots. And he didn’t look particularly good at the outset of Game 2 either, playing tentatively and deep in his net as the Penguins pressured the Montreal defense that was without its best player, Andrei Markov.
But unlike Game 1, Pittsburgh didn’t get much in the way of traffic in front of Halak, at least not after Ruslan Fedetenko took an interference penalty midway through the period that gave the Canadiens a chance to catch their breath. From that point on, Montreal gradually began sneaking back in and headed to dressing room tied because they had outhustled the Penguins deep and finished the play with a goal by Brian Gionta.
On the surface, that seemed to wake up the home team because the Penguins dominated the shot clock in the second period with an 18-3 advantage. Trouble is Halak does better with more work rather than less, and he clearly got sharper as the period progressed. It didn’t hurt that his defense began looking a lot like it did in the opening round, not so much in terms of blocking shots, but in the way it cleared rebounds, prevented Pittsburgh from getting second chances, and most important, neutralized the big guns Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Given the ultimate outcome, one might be tempted to describe the effort as a bit of rope-a-dope on the part of the Canadiens, who were backing up most of the day. But they did find a couple of opening, converting one on a power play to take the lead in the second period, and another on a turnover in the third to put the game away with both goals coming from the stick of Mike Cammalleri.
Thing is Montreal didn’t need many chances to upset the heavily favored Capitals. And that’s something the Penguins shouldn't forget.
Minimalism as a means to an end
Posted on: May 2, 2010 6:13 pm
Edited on: May 2, 2010 6:32 pm