Pens-Habs Episode 3: The Return of Crosby + Live Blog details!
QUICK UPDATE: Markov's season is done, according to the Team 990. The diagnosis is that Markov suffered a torn ACL, the muscle on the front part of the knee, which is the opposite muscle from the torn MCL Mike Cammalleri suffered. Not an injury you can come back from early, and one that takes at least 6 to 8 weeks to heal. More on this later.
Here's a stat you won't hear on TSN or any of the newspapers. The Montreal Canadiens have won 4 of the 5 games for which TCL, in conjunction with Steven Hindle of Hockeybuzz and Kamal Panesar of Habs Addict, has been doing live blogs. Coincidence? I think not!
Join the three of us, as well as a plethora of guest panelists, to celebrate what could be win #5 tonight in Montreal!
Set your reminders below, and join us at 6:45 for all the pre-game fun! Scroll down below for today's blog.
This second round series between the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins is starting to look more and more like the Canadiens' 1st round victory over the Washington Capitals.
We certainly do not to get ahead of ourselves, but the parallels are certainly there. After two games, the Canadiens and Penguins are tied, one game a piece. Going into tonight's game at the Bell Centre, we basically find ourselves following a new series.
In game 1 (similar to game 2 in Washington), the Canadiens looked out of place and couldn't control the top stars in Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby got on the board with 2 assists. Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang, and Bill Guerin each had 2 point nights, each scoring a goal and adding an assist. And let's not forget the goals from Sergei Gonchar and Jordan Staal. In game 1, the Canadiens looked tired, out of place and on an emotional low after winning game 7 in Washington. Maybe they didn't know what to expect, maybe they weren't ready, but they came out of that game looking beaten and ready to hit the links.
But what a difference 2 days would make. In game 2, the odd afternoon game for the Canadiens, thanks to NBC, the Canadiens once again started the game looking tired, out of place, and unable to compete. Through the first 10 minutes, the Penguins went up 1-0 on the scoreboard, 8-1 in the shots, and behind in hits and blocked shots as well, two statistics that have been key throughout the Canadiens' playoff run.
But once that halfway point in the period came and went, things seemed to change. The Canadiens came back to shoot on Marc-Andre Fleury 11 times, while the Pens could only muster a single shot. Brian Gionta scored his 4th of the playoffs, and the Canadiens were back on track.
Things continued to roll in the favor of the Canadiens in the second. While the shot differentials were back in the favor of the Pens (18-3 in the second, 12-6 in the third), it did not phase Jaro Halak like it did in game 1, nor did it face the rest of the Canadiens. Hal Gill and Josh Gorges returned to their shut-down ways from the first round, and Mike Cammalleri continued his incredible post-season run, scoring one one of the finest displays of hand-eye coordination you'll see in a hockey game.
Cammalleri would score on a breakaway in the third period, and Gill and Gorges would be on the ice for both of his games, going +2 in the game and proving why they don't look out of place playing well over 20 minutes a game. They did their job masterfully, holding Sidney Crosby to a single shot and frustrating the hell of out him, to the point where he smashed his stick against a goalpost and sobbed his way back to the bench. Crosby ended his night a -2.
Jaroslav Halak was back to his winning ways, stopping 37 of 38 shots, and, of course, deserves as much credit as anymore else for the victory.
Add to these factors the re-emergence of quality play from Roman Hamrlik and Marc-Andre Bergeron, a goal from Brian Gionta, as well as the insertion of PK Subban into the line-up, and dare I say that the Canadiens look better going into games 3 and 4 at the Bell Centre than they did last round?
With the series tied at a game a piece, the Canadiens head to Montreal with an opportunity many people probably didn't even think of giving them. In front of a Bell Centre crowd, as hot as they're going to be after the victory at Mellon Arena, and the victories over the Capitals last week, they have a unique opportunity to win at least one game out of two and take it to the Penguins heading back to Pittsburgh on the weekend.
Naturally, if you ask any Canadiens player, he will tell you that they are taking it a game at a time and not looking too far ahead, but you can't help but be excited going into tonight's game, if you're a Habs fan. Nevertheless, if the Canadiens stand any chance at winning, they're going to have to continue doing a few things that got them the victory on Sunday afternoon, as well as three straight victories the week before:
1. Block more shots than humanly possible.
In game 1 on Friday night, the Canadiens blocked 15 shots to the Penguins 22, and lost the game by a score of 6-3. On Sunday afternoon, the Canadiens once again blocked 15 shots, but the Penguins could only block 7. The Canadiens, of course, won that game by a score of 3-1. You do the math. Shot blocking is what won the Habs the series against Washington, and game 2 on Sunday, and it'll be what wins them the series against Pittsburgh. You have to be kind of worried about Gill and Gorges, and if their bodies can continue taking abuse, but this is what they have to do if the Canadiens expect to win.
2. Shut down Crosby.
This may sound weird, but forget about anyone else on the Pens line-up. Going into this series, I thought the Canadiens were going to have trouble because of the depth of the Penguins, and to a degree, that's been the case. Matt Cooke has shown he can score, same for Kunitz and Guerin, and Pascal Dupuis has had some great chances on that line with Cooke as well as Talbot. Regardless of this depth, outside of Sidney Crosby, the rest of the lline-up for the Pens has shown that they can be handled. If Jacques Martin's game plan is focused around getting bodies on Crosby, shutting him down and taking away his shooting lanes, the rest will fall in line. Malkin has been a no-show, and frankly, I don't think he can do a 180 going into tonight's game. And while the Pens 3rd line can be as dangerous as their 1st on many nights (Cooke, Talbot and Dupuis was their best trio on Sunday), they're not talented enough to score on as many chances as they need to to be a factor, and aren't going to be as much trouble for Halak as Crosby. I firmly believe that if the Canadiens can contain Crosby like they did on the weekend, they can contain the rest of the team as a result.
3. Give the puck to Cammy.
Mike Cammalleri has proven he can score on nearly every chance he's given in the offensive zone. He's proven that he's clutch, and that he's a gamebreaker. If the Canadiens are going to win any more games, they're going to need Cammalleri to score. Of course, the Penguins have probably realized this heading into tonight's game, and will likely attempt to do to Cammalleri what the Canadiens did to Crosby in game 2, but simply put, they're going to have to find openings for Cammalleri and get him the puck no matter who is on him. Considering his goal totals in these playoffs, and how Marc-Andre Fleury has been playing, two more goals tonight from the sniper shouldn't be out of the question.
4. Manage the bench.
In Sunday's game, the fourth line combined for less than 5 minutes of ice time in the entire game. While J-Mart has obviously lost confidence in some of his players, he's going to need to get 5 to 7 minutes from at least a couple of these players. Glen Metropolit, a guy who's been in and out of the coaching staff's doghouse this season, is back in tonight, and HAS to be allowed to get more even strength ice time than he's been given so far. He can play, he's defensively responsible, he can score and he has hockey sense. Let him do what he does best, let him fill the roles your other player may be lacking over the course of a tough playoff game.
5. Let Jaroslav Halak do his thing.
This fifth and final point speaks for itself.
Just like every win before this one, it's not going to be easy. The Penguins are a superior team, an experienced team, a winning team. But the Canadiens will have the crowd, the momentum, and the will to win behind them. Winning tonight, as well as Thursday, will be just as difficult for the Penguins as it will be for the Canadiens.
If the Canadiens can stick to their game plan, and play the same type of game that's gotten them this far into the playoffs, they will stand just as good a chance at winning as any other team.
Enjoy the game tonight, and don't forget to join us RIGHT HERE at 6:45 for tonight's Live Chat!