Friday, April 30, 2010

The Playoffs, Day 17: Potent Pittsburgh power play produces victory

Penguins make Canadiens pay for mistakes, take Game 1
Three of the most popular words in the Pittsburgh fan's vernacular this season and parts of last season were: Fire Mike Yeo. Actually, we can make it four most popular. Just add "effing" somewhere in the mix. If you're really angry, you can stretch it to six words.

Yeo runs the team's power play, which was fairly ineffective nearly the entire season despite boasting talents Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar.

Now the fans are wondering what strange world they're in, after Pittsburgh converted all four opportunities with the man-advantage and eventually chased Jaroslav Halak in a 6-3 victory over Montreal in Game 1 of their conference semifinal series. The Canadiens had allowed just one power play goal to Washington in 33 chances.

The recipe for success against Halak seems to be get fewer, better shots. The Penguins registered only 24 shots for the game, 20 coming against Halak, who was replaced by Carey Price shortly after giving up Alex Goligoski's power play goal that gave Pittsburgh a 5-2 lead three minutes into the third period. Halak made a clutch save that could've made it 6-2, then Jacques Martin brought in Price. The thinking here is that lets Halak end the game on a good note (though if he hadn't made that save, his confidence could've been destroyed) and Halak will bounce back. He did against Washington.

In contrast, Montreal had 31 shots, just the second time the team has had more shots than its opponent in the postseason.

Pittsburgh set up screens in front of Halak and made him go side to side with some pretty passing, first on Gonchar's one-timer from the center point, after a pass to Malkin, a quick dish a short distance away to Kris Letang, then back to Gonchar a handful of feet from Letang. Alexei Ponikarovsky dished a pass to Jordan Staal, who skated laterally in the slot and fired back the way he came, beating Halak over his left shoulder.

Those goals came after Montreal rookie P.K. Subban - who's going to be GOOD - scored his first career goal by throwing the puck at the Pittsburgh net, where it was re-directed past Marc-Andre Fleury by defenseman Mark Eaton.

Staal's goal came after Montreal lost its discipline. Matt Cooke drilled Andrei Markov in the corner with a clean hit, but Markov landed awkwardly and writhed in pain on the ice. Scott Gomez jumped Cooke at center ice and ended up with the minor penalty upon which Staal scored. Markov left the game and did not return.

Another Canadiens mistake led to Letang's goal early in the second period. Montreal was whistled for too many men on the ice, and Letang snapped a shot past Halak from the slot after nice work by Crosby to win a puck battle along the boards.

Montreal answered, slowly gaining momentum its way, and it paid off when Mike Cammalleri laced a one-timer off a nice feed by Gomez late in the second period. The Canadiens were able to take advantage of a Pittsburgh line that overextended its shift.

But Craig freaking Adams restored Pittsburgh's equilibrium off a nifty passing play between Cooke, Pascal Dupuis and Adams. Cooke controlled a puck in the attacking zone, nudged it to Dupuis, whose cross-ice feed found Adams, who re-directed it behind Halak. It was Adams' second goal of the postseason after having none during the regular season and made the score 4-2 with 1:24 left in the period.

Montreal's last mistake might've been its biggest. Brian Gionta tossed the puck out of play from his own end for a delay of game penalty, and Goligoski converted a Crosby pass for a three-goal advantage. Gionta got it back with a power play marker of his own with 7:31 remaining, but Bill Guerin's empty net goal sealed Pittsburgh's victory.

Fleury finished with 28 saves, including a dazzler on Gomez in the second period.

The lone blight on Pittsburgh's game was Staal left with an injury during the second period and did not return.

Stat of the night
13 - Different Penguins who registered at least one point. Guerin, Crosby, Letang and Goligoski each had two.

Quote of the night
"If you make mistakes, they're going to jump on them."
Gomez, who had two assists

(Though I would also cite Han Solo's "Great kid, don't get cocky" to my fellow Penguins fans and to the Penguins themselves.)

Saturday predictions
Boston 3, Philadelphia 1
Chicago 5, Vancouver 3

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