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Defending champs let another lead slip away

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

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Defending champs let another lead slip away
The defending Stanley Cup champions are on the rope, in large part because they’ve had trouble hanging onto the lead. The Canadiens forced Game 7 against the Penguins on Monday by rallying for a 4-3 win -- all three Pittsburgh losses in this series have been games in which it has blown a lead.
MONTREAL -- Whoops, they did it again!

Three times in these exquisite Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Pittsburgh Penguins have held the lead in a game that would give them a hammerlock on the series. Now, after Monday night's meltdown against Montreal in Game 6 at the Bell Centre, they have let that lead slip away and allow the series to devolve -- from their viewpoint -- into a stalemate.

Now, they face the ultimate stalemate -- a Game 7 -- after the Canadiens erased a 2-1 lead in the game's second half and fashioned a season-saving 4-3 victory that inexplicably sends this series to Mellon Arena and leaves the defending champions with no more margin for error.

After the Pens let a chance to close out a fifth-straight series on the road slip their hands, the players were divided about what went wrong.

Some blamed puck management. Others blamed a rash of turnovers. Still others praised the Canadiens, who have showed a never-say-die attitude since falling down 3-1 in games against top-seeded Washington in the first round.

"It's more an attribute of theirs than one of our faults," Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "They work hard and don't seem to get too rattled when they are behind."

But veteran, experienced teams with a Stanley Cup on their recent resume are supposed to be able to clamp down -- especially when the opposing team is the No. 8 seed and has trouble scoring goals.

That isn't exactly what happened Monday night at an incredibly hostile Bell Centre.

The Canadiens looked at a 2-1 deficit and just sneered, much in the same way they have sneered at adversity throughout this postseason. Michael Cammalleri tied the game at two with his second of the night, a nifty backhander. Then, less than three minutes later, Jaroslav Spacek, playing for the first time in 10 games, whistled a point shot through a maze of legs and sticks and past Marc-Andre Fleury to put Pittsburgh on the canvas.

And shockingly, the defending champs could not pick themselves up for the third-straight time in this series.  

"It was a stretch of a couple of minutes that did us again tonight," veteran forward Bill Guerin said. That's something we have to improve on."

And Guerin believes his team will improve in that area.

When asked if the team's penchant for blowing leads is a concern, he didn't even pause.

"No. No. No. No," he said.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who scored for the first time in this series, also insisted his team would not dwell on missed opportunities. There is, he says, too much at stake on Wednesday to even think about the past.

"I don't think there is a time to be concerned about anything," Crosby said. "I think anything that has happened in the past six games doesn't really mean anything. You have to bear down and play your best game and that means playing for 60 minutes, whether you have the lead or not.

"(Losing a lead) is something that can't happen in a Game 7. You can't give up leads."

Yet, Crosby remains at a loss to explain how his team lost a lead in this elimination game.

"Sometimes you talk about teams that give up leads and they sit back and change their game and things like that. That's not a result of that here at all. We just haven't been able to get that extra (goal), unfortunately. But it is not a lack of effort or changing our game. I think as long as you are focused on playing the right way and adding to that lead, you give yourself a pretty good chance."

Although it may be troubling for Pittsburgh as it faces Wednesday's do-or-die game that giving itself a good chance has not been enough so far in this series against these refuse-to-die Canadiens.

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