Excuse me, do I know you? That wouldn't be an out-of-place greeting for the Penguins and Canadiens who open their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Friday (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).
The Pens and Habs have met just once in the playoffs, a 1998 first-round series won by the Canadiens in six games. Led by Jaromir Jagr
and Ron Francis
, the Penguins entered the playoffs as the second seed, finishing 11 points ahead of the seventh-seeded Canadiens in the regular season (98 to 87). Canadiens goaltender Andy Moog
outdueled Tom Barrasso
in a battle of veteran goaltenders, posting a 21-save shutout in a series-clinching 3-0 win.
-- Pittsburgh won three of the four regular-season meetings, outscoring the Canadiens 9-2 in a pair of victories at Mellon Arena and 15-9 overall.
and Bill Guerin
led the Penguins' attack with 6 points apiece (Crosby 4-2--6, Guerin 2-4--6), while Chris Kunitz
notched 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) and a plus-3 rating in his lone appearance. Defenseman Brooks Orpik
had 3 assists and was a plus-7. Canadiens first-round hero Jaroslav Halak
posted a 1-1 record with a 4.20 goals-against average in two appearances against Pittsburgh.
From Quebec to Pittsburgh
-- Four players on the Penguins roster hail from the Montreal area, forwards Maxime Talbot
(LeMoyne) and Pascal Dupuis
(Laval); goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
(Sorel) and defenseman Kris Letang
(Montreal). Each brought the Stanley Cup home to Quebec last summer to share with family, friends and tens of thousands of fans at parades and gatherings throughout the province. In addition, captain Sidney Crosby
played two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Rimouski Oceanic.
-- Penguins fans aren't used to seeing 6-foot-7, 250 pound defenseman Hal Gill
in an opposition uniform. Gill, whose two-year stay in Pittsburgh featured two trips to the Stanley Cup Final and a championship in 2009, appeared in 44 postseason games for the Penguins in 2008 and 2009.
The Crosby Show
-- Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
turned in one of the top performances of the opening round, leading all players in scoring with 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) and posting a plus-7 rating in six games against Ottawa. Crosby established a personal high for points in a series, surpassing the 13 (8 goals, 5 assists) he notched against the Washington Capitals
in the second round last season.
Crosby's clutch plays
-- Crosby conjured up some playoff magic to get the Penguins out of a jam early in their first-round series. Down 1-0 in the series, the Penguins were tied 1-1 with Ottawa late in the third period of Game 2 when Crosby dove through the crease to swat away an Anton Volchenkov
shot that had eluded goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
, preserving the tie with 9:13 left in regulation. Later, he repeatedly eluded checkers behind the Senators' net before setting up Kris Letang
for the game-winning goal with 4:12 left in regulation.
-- Evgeni Malkin
continued his playoff scoring binge in the first round, tallying 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) in six games. Malkin has averaged better than a point per game in each of his past five playoff series, recording 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 30 games.
All Hail Halak
-- Jaroslav Halak
experienced highs and lows in a roller-coaster first round. He was brilliant in turning aside 45 of 47 shots in the series-opening 3-2 win at Washington, surrendered 6 goals in the Game 2 collapse and was pulled in Game 3 after allowing 3 goals on 13 shots. After teammate Carey Price
took the loss in Game 4, the Canadiens turned to Halak with the club on the brink of elimination. In a performance reminiscent of famous playoff exploits by Canadiens goaltenders like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy
, Halak stopped 37, 53 and 41 shots, respectively, in three victories to capture the series. Halak improved to 10-0-1 this season when facing 40-or-more shots.
-- The Canadiens' penalty killing stymied the vaunted Washington Capitals
power play that had led the NHL in goals (79) and percentage (25.2) during the regular season. Washington went 1-for-33 with the man advantage and in fact scored more goals shorthanded (2) in the series. Receiving the most shorthanded ice time were defensemen Josh Gorges
(4:44 per game) and Hal Gill
(4:42), ranking fourth and fifth in the League, respectively. The Montreal power play, which ranked second in the NHL in the regular season (21.8 percent), connected in six of the seven games against Washington (6 for 30).
-- The Canadiens recorded 182 blocked shots in the first round, an average of 26 per game and more than 40 percent ahead of second-ranked Ottawa (129). They blocked 41 alone in their Game 7 win at Washington. Four Montreal defensemen ranked in the League's top eight in the first round: Hal Gill
had 31, Josh Gorges
20, Roman Hamrlik
19 and Andrei Markov