Pens endure Habs' cat-and-mouse antics, strike late in Game 3 victory
Pittsburgh goalie Marc-André Fleury didn't have to be great -- just consistent
The Habs seldom attacked the net with fervor, often maintaining a defensive front
Evgeni Malkin's power-play goal essentially locked up the Pens' Game 3 win
MONTREAL -- Marc-André Fleury -- Rodney Dangerfield with an accent -- shut out the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in Game 3 while blocking out the criticism that had been heaped on him back in Pittsburgh.
Even for a goaltender nicknamed Flower, someone is always overdoing the bit about raining on his parade.
But with a brilliant third period in which he went from innocent bystander to game-saver with three ten-bell stops, he surely has stilled the braying voices about his save percentage -- he entered the game with the lowest among the remaining playoff starters -- and the generally middling quality of his spring.
"The criticism hasn't been coming from inside here," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think he's been fine, to be honest. He probably hasn't stolen us a game (previously) like he might have tonight, but if you look at most of the goals he's given up in the playoffs, it's been breakdowns by the guys in front of him. It really hasn't been him letting in really soft goals. Maybe one or two.
"I think a lot of time (people) see goals ... (and, well) he's just an easy guy to pick out. I don't think he's played as well as he can play up until tonight, but I don't think he's played bad," said Oprik. "(Teams have scored) goals he he's had no chance on and second opportunities because we haven't been picking up guys."
The stops in this 18-save whitewash might be impossible to rank. Perhaps none of the holy trinity of stops joins the pantheon with the glove save Fleury made in tight on Washington's Alexander Ovechkin in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern semis or the push across the crease to foil Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom in the dying seconds of Game 7 of the '09 Stanley Cup Final, but the saves against the Canadiens were a testament to Fleury's ability to withstand ennui much as an onslaught.
From the end of the first period until 9½ minutes into the third, he had to make just four saves, which on most nights is a decent five minutes for Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak. Then the deluge. Fleury, whose legs move so furiously that sometimes they resemble a duck's paddling under water, had to extend his right pad to foil Brian Gionta with 10:34 left in the period. Some three minutes later, the Penguins goalie made a powerful lateral push from left to right to kick aside a Mike Cammalleri shot from inside the left faceoff dot. Fleury completed the goaltending trifecta two minutes later with another nifty save, seemingly with the toe of his skate, on a Tomas Plekanec tip.
"A great performance from him tonight," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "A kind of 'There, he's done it again.' There have been questions about Marc-André ... we've seen them at different times of his career. He's never been one to put up blazing numbers, but he's always been one to answer the game/save situations. I think our room believes in the guys we have in net. Time and time again, he's proven it. I think it was a tough game for him in terms of some action, a lull for a while and then some ferocious action. He made two or three that developed as seam plays and he had to come up big, getting across the net."
Setting aside any personal baggage that a Quebec goaltender like Fleury brings into any game against his boyhood team -- he grew up in Sorel, about an hour from Montreal -- the Canadiens are a difficult team to play. They play a style that is full bore, and not in the best sense of the in the word. As the estimable Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has noted, the Canadiens used to play firewagon hockey and now play station-wagon hockey. Under first-year coach Jacques Martin, this truly has been the yawn of a new era in Montreal. "It seems a bit like the Italian national soccer back in the day," Cammalleri was explaining at the morning skate. "They defend, defend and defend and when they get their one chance, they score the goal."
The style came out of Inter-Milan in the 1960s and is known, in the language of calcio, as catenaccio, which means deadbolt. The word in the language of hockey is stultifying. But captain Sidney Crosby and the Penguins were uncharacteristically patient against the rope-a-dopers. This actually was not Crosby's first playoff game in the arena now known as the Bell Centre although he was in civvies at the time, if not quite short pants. He was in the stands to watch his beloved Canadiens lose 3-0 to Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres. Crosby was hardly more of a presence back then than he was in the first period. He did not have a shot on goal and seemed somehow off his feed, not unlike Game 2 in which he was a non-factor.
The Canadiens defense pair of the pituitary Hal Gill and Josh Gorges deserve part of the credit, of course, but Crosby also was playing without Bill Guerin on his right flank, which is a little like playing with one hand behind his back. Guerin is one of the shooters on the wing, an annual problem that general manager Ray Shero tries to patch at the trading deadline. In Guerin's unexplained absence, Bylsma was forced to move up Pascal Dupuis from the remnants of the third Pittsburgh line. Dupuis has had his playoffs moments -- scoring the series winner against Ottawa in overtime -- but he wasn't having many of them early in Montreal. Midway through the second period, Bylsma loaded up, playing Crosby with Evgeni Malkin, whose work ethic at last was beyond reproach, and Ruslan Fedotenko, who had fallen out of favor during the course of a miserable season. Even when Crosby did get an opportunity, he looked somehow tentative. He corralled the puck at the bottom of the right circle, maybe 15 feet from goalie Halak, but double-clutched waiting for a shooting lane. When he belatedly fired the puck, Gorges blocked the shot.
But Crosby was strong on both sides of the puck -- this separates him from many NHL stars -- and drew the decisive holding call against Gill later in the same shift to give Pittsburgh a power play and 1:49 of fresh ice to start the third period. The Penguins needed 76 seconds of it. Malkin, who won the Art Ross and Conn Smythe Trophies a year ago, let go a shot from perhaps 40 feet. With Crosby screening Halak, the shot slipped over Halak's left pad and glove to break the scoreless tie, not to mention the tedium. Then, in the final 10½ minutes, Fleury was obliged to awaken from his slumber. Deadbolt.
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