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Habs' dynamic duo small in stature, big in heart

by Corey Masisak /
PITTSBURGH -- There is something literal about calling the Montreal Canadiens "the little team that could" -- namely, the diminutive size of their top forwards.

It was those same small forwards who outshined two of the biggest stars in hockey to help the Canadiens upset the Pittsburgh Penguins and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Michael Cammalleri, listed at 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, and Brian Gionta, all 5-foot-7 and 173 pounds of him, combined for 11 of Montreal's 19 goals in the series.

"They played big. I said right from the start of the year that they are small in stature but they have big hearts," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "They compete, they get in the corners, they get to the danger areas to score and that's what you need to score. The playoffs aren't flashy, it is not beating guys one-on-one -- that doesn't happen. Those guys do the little things. They know how to win and they know how to be successful."

Cammalleri is in the midst of a magical postseason despite it being his first extended playoff experience. He leads all NHL players with 12 goals, including the eventual game-winner in this contest. It was a fine finish to a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play to give Montreal a 3-0 advantage.

He has also etched his name in playoff lore for the sport's proudest franchise. Cammalleri's 12 goals are tied for the third-most by any Montreal player in one playoff. He is three behind Yvan Cournoyer in 1973 for the most in the franchise's storied history.

Gionta is a seasoned playoff veteran from his years with the New Jersey Devils. He collected two critical goals in Game 7 -- the first one and the last one. He put the Canadiens in front 32 seconds in with a deflection and ended any hope of a Penguins' comeback by batting a pass from Cammalleri out of mid-air into the net for a power-play marker in the third period.

"The smurfs -- yeah, and that is what it was all about," defenseman Hal Gill said. "Those guys really came up big, and not just scoring goals but making the plays. They were moving the puck out of our end and into their end. There was timely scoring. It is everything."

Added Penguins forward Bill Guerin: "You tend to forget you've got world-class players over there, Cammalleri and Gomez, Gionta, Plekanec; guys like those guys are world-class players and they're capable of putting up world-class numbers. Let's not forget about those guys."

Meanwhile, the world-class players in the Pittsburgh dressing room were stifled. While Cammalleri and Gionta carried the Montreal offense, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held to one goal each in this series.

Most goals by Canadiens player, one playoff year
Player Year GP G
Yvan Cournoyer 1973 17 15
Frank Mahovlich 1971 20 14
Jean Beliveau 1956 10 12
Guy Lafleur 1975 11 12
Maurice Richard 1944 9 12
(vs. NHL opponents only)
Crosby was on a record pace after collecting 14 points in the first round against Ottawa, but he finished this series with five -- and only three in the six games Gill dressed for.

"We just played them really well," Gill said. "Our forwards came back really hard and forced them into awkward positions. Jaro made the saves when he had to and [Gorges] was on them when he had to be. Whoever we had out there, we took time and space away."

Added Gorges: "That's a credit to this team. Those are two very, very talented players who I think pushed us to be better. I think we knew what kind of challenge it would be to play against those guys. We didn't shy away from that challenge. I think we rose to the occasion. You can't stop those guys if you don't have five guys playing defense, which we did."

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