Canadiens over-matched in series opener
The story coming into game 1 was about the invincible Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens vaunted PK unit that killed 32 of 33 Washington power plays during their first round series.
The Pittsburgh Penguins made those two areas of dominance for the Canadiens look like a thing of past as the defending champions put on a dominating performance in their 6-3 win Friday night to take a 1-0 series lead.
Pittsburgh went 4-for-4 on the power play, getting goals from Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski and Jordan Staal. Pittsburgh showed great puck movement and gave the Canadiens a number of different looks as the Penguins power play unit is starting to peak at an NHL best 34.1%
The Canadiens called the Penguins more “unpredictable” than Washington after the game but Sidney Crosby said it was all about just getting traffic in front, something the Penguins feel that the Washington Capitals didn’t do enough against Montreal.
“We talked about getting traffic, we talked about getting pucks through, and we executed, ” Crosby said.
“That was the difference. When you do the right things, you give yourself a chance. We got some good areas to get shots away. I still think we can get more shots, still think we can generate more.”
Crosby added two assists, giving him 16 points through 7 points and he is currently on a historic pace.
Crosby’s 2.28 points per game is 5th all-time through seven games, according to the Ellias Sports Bureau.
While Crosby didn’t score in game 1, his ability to control the puck down low and keep plays alive Friday night is why he has clearly established himself as the games most dominant player.
Pittsburgh jumped out to a 3-1 lead on three consecutive power play goals but Mike Cammalleri scored at 15:57 of the second period to make it 3-2 and get the Canadiens back in the game.
Pittsburgh was caught on a late shift and Scott Gomez controlled the puck behind the net and found Cammalleri open in front of the net on a blown assignment by Max Talbot who put it past Marc Andre Fleury.
Pittsburgh’s ability to respond was the difference in their first round series with the Ottawa Senators and game 1 against Montreal was no different.
Just minutes later Pittsburgh struck again, this time at even strength as Matt Cooke kept a play alive, poking the puck to Pascal Dupuis who showed great patience and setup Craig Adams for a one-timer goal to give Penguins a 4-2 lead at 18:36 of the period.
It was the type of goal from a role player that championship teams get and it was a blow to the Canadiens hopes of mounting a comeback.
Minutes into the third period, Pittsburgh put the game away as Alex Goligoski made it 5-2 by scoring off of a Sidney Crosby cross-ice setup.
Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak would stay in the net for a few more minutes but was pulled after the next whistle. The star of the Canadiens first round series never looked comfortable and struggled, making 15 saves on 20 shots.
Brian Gionta added a power play goal for the Canadiens at the 12:29 mark to get within two goals but Pittsburgh closed out the game with a Billy Guerin empty goal to secure a 6-3 win.
Pittsburgh’s dominance on the power play was the buzz after game. Canadiens center Scott Gomez was very blunt on why the Penguins won.
“They beat us in the special teams department,”Scott Gomez said. “I mean there’s a reason they hoisted the Cup last year. If you make mistakes, they’re going to jump on them.”
Pittsburgh’s ability to make teams pay for mistakes is what makes them so dangerous and why the Canadiens have an uphill battle in this series.
Everything though didn’t go right for Pittsburgh. Center Jordan Staal left the game in the second period with what appeared to be an ankle injury.
Staal is being re-evaluated Saturday morning but the fear in the Penguins organization is that he might have a high ankle sprain. After the game head coach Dan Bylsma did not talk like he expected to see Staal in the lineup Sunday afternoon.
Sidney Crosby said that losing Staal would not be easy to deal with.
“He’s a big part of our team and It’s not something that is easy to deal with, but that is what you face, ” Crosby said.
“There’s no sense feeling sorry for ourselves and thinking about it. There’s nothing we can do…… It’s out of our control, If anything, somebody gets an opportunity to play some key minutes and fill his role. It’s not an easy one to fill but a great challenge for anybody that is going to fill his spot.”
That somebody could be Mark Letestu if Tyler Kennedy is not ready to return for game 2, although the Penguins are comfortable with Craig Adams as the No. 3 center and Letestu has yet to practice with the team.
The Penguins practice Saturday morning at 10:45.
The Montreal Canadiens also suffered a significant loss when star defenseman Markov was hurt when he fell oddly after a hit by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Markov was helped off the ice and in serious pain, unable to put any weight on his right knee.
The concern in Montreal is that Markov tore his knee up and won’t be back for the remainder of the playoffs. Like Staal he will be re-evaluated on Saturday.
Game 2 is Sunday.
*Tyler Kennedy who was ruled out for game 1 missed his third straight game. Dan Bylsma opted to go with Ruslan Fedotenko instead of Chris Conner as the 12th forward. Fedotenko was the extra forward all week, including Friday’s morning skate.
*FSN Pittsburgh, the exclusive rights-holder for Pittsburgh Penguins regional telecasts, recorded an 18.9 average rating for the six game 2010 Round One Playoff series against the Ottawa Senators. It marked the highest rated NHL Round One Playoff series on FSN Pittsburgh.
Four of the six games in Round One landed in the Top Ten Highest Rated Penguins Playoff Games on FSN Pittsburgh. The April 18th Penguins win recorded a 21.56 rating, the highest in the series, placing it third in the all-time list for playoff games on the network.
FSN Pittsburgh led all US-based regional sports networks in NHL game ratings for the last three regular seasons.
FSN will televise up to three games in Round Two of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs with its first game on Tues., May 4 starting at 6:30 PM.
*The Penguins announced that the popular Big Screen Outside the Arena will not be in operation for Game 2 as the Penguins are not permitted to show Game 2 on the outdoor screen Sunday afternoon in accordance with league broadcasting rights.