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Creating traffic key to Penguins solving Halak

by Shawn P. Roarke /
PITTSBURGH -- All series, the Pittsburgh Penguins have talked about creating traffic around the Montreal net.

But talk -- no matter how convincing -- does not win hockey games.

So the Penguins decided to turn their words into action and storm the area around Jaroslav Halak, the Montreal goalie who has stymied Pittsburgh through the first four games of this series.

The result? Two goals through traffic that proved to be the difference in a 2-1 victory for the Penguins Saturday night in Game 5 at Mellon Arena. Pittsburgh now leads the best-of-7 series 3-2 and gets its first opportunity to close out the Canadiens in Monday night's Game 6 at the Bell Centre.

"You can talk about getting there; everybody wants to do it," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it's not easy. A great job by those guys battling to get position there."

"Those guys" were Bill Guerin and Mike Rupp, the two changes from the lineup that lost Game 4, 3-2. Guerin also missed Game 3, a 2-0 victory. Rupp and Guerin were the ringleaders in the full-frontal assault on Halak's crease.

Guerin was encamped in front of Halak during a first-period power play, tying up defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who was trying to budge Guerin out of Halak's line of vision. That effort proved fruitless and Guerin was in perfect position when Kris Letang whistled a slapper past a screened Halak for the opening goal with just 1:42 left in the period.

Midway through the second period, Rupp set up shop in the low slot and refused to budge despite the attention of both forward Tomas Plekanec and defenseman Josh Gorges. As a result, there was a wall of legs and sticks in front of Halak when Sergei Gonchar hammered home another slapper for the eventual winning goal.

Halak himself admitted that Pittsburgh's willingness to crash the crease was the difference in the game.

"They were trying to get more traffic in front of me and there was always somebody," he said. "It was how they scored their goals. The first one I couldn't see. I think it went through our guy. The second one was the same thing."

For that reason alone, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma sure was happy he could write down the names of both Guerin and Rupp on his Game 5 roster sheet.

"We talked this morning about getting Billy back in and what it would mean," Bylsma said. "One of his assets, so to speak, is being in that front area. When you have a goaltender that is playing like that, you need to get people there. I thought we did a better job of it tonight. But it is an indication of how we need to score goals. Mike Rupp did a good job doing that; Billy Guerin as well. Two big additions and two big goals."

Why are Guerin and Rupp willing to go to the net and take punishment from players like Montreal's Hal Gill, who was doling out punishment until he left the game with a lower-body injury early in the third period?

Because, simply, they hunger to win another Stanley Cup. And to get past Halak -- their biggest obstacle to date in that quest -- they must make such sacrifices.

"I don't know if there is any other way to beat this guy," Rupp told "We have to find a way to get there and hold that spot. I think we did a good job with that tonight. Even with doing that, we were only able to get two goals on the guy. We need to keep doing that and keep putting pucks on net and we'll look to keep trying to do the same thing."

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