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Halak responds with 38 saves as Habs even series

by Shawn P. Roarke /
PITTSBURGH -- A tried-and-true formula has put Montreal right back into this Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Canadiens rode brilliant goaltending by Jaroslav Halak, a once-again impenetrable penalty kill, a willingness to block shots and some timely goal-scoring from big guns Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta to author a 3-1 win Sunday afternoon in Game 2 here at Mellon Arena.


Not only did Montreal even the best-of-7 series at one game apiece, but it also washed away any lingering memories of Pittsburgh's dominance in Friday's series-opening victory, a 6-3 whitewashing.

"It was a little reminiscent of some of the (wins) we've had so far this postseason, but I thought we did a lot of things that we wanted to do," said Cammalleri, who had two goals, including a highlight-reel tally for the game-winner.

"We were trying to limit their top scoring chances, or their Grade-A scoring chances. They still got some and Jaro played well. We played a pretty patient game and we got a win.

"We'd probably like to not be out-shot and out-chanced as badly once again; but all that really matters is we got the split and we're going home."

Game 3 is Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, Montreal's first home game since it did the impossible in winning a road Game 7 against top-seeded Washington to close out the first round.

As Cammalleri mentioned, Montreal was terribly out-chanced in Sunday's game. The shots were 39-21 in Pittsburgh's favor and in the last two periods the margin was 28-12 for the Penguins.

But Montreal won because Halak returned to his brilliant self after an off-night in Game 1 and the Canadiens found a way to solve their penalty-kill problems after allowing four goals in as many man-down situations in Game 1.

Sunday, Montreal's penalty kill was more aggressive in denying Pittsburgh entry into the attacking zone at speed and did a far better job of boxing out crease-crashing forwards. The result was a stellar 3-for-3 performance on the kill, a feat made even more impressive because defenseman Andrei Markov -- the team's top PK presence -- was out of the lineup due to injury.

Yet, Pittsburgh could not find a way to solve a defense that collapsed valiantly around Halak and accounted for 12 of the team's 15 blocked shots Sunday.

"We got more shots, like we wanted to," said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who managed just one shot and was a minus-2. Sunday was just the second time in these playoffs that Crosby has not registered at least one point.

"As a whole, we got the puck to the net and got some good chances, more than we did last game. The only difference was power play-wise we didn't execute as well. Even strength I thought we did a good job of generating things."

When Pittsburgh did generate opportunities -- something that seemed to happen at will for the Penguins during the final 40 minutes -- Halak had the answer, just as he did in the final three games against Washington in the first round.

"He played really well," Crosby said. "We had some second opportunities that we didn't get our sticks on, or we got our sticks on and missed the net. He played solid, there's no doubt. He made the saves he had to."

The only shot Halak did not stop Sunday gave Pittsburgh the game's first goal, just 4:38 into the contest. Matt Cooke scored it when a bit of trickery on a neutral-zone draw allowed him to get into the Montreal zone unmarked as he collected a Pascal Dupuis pass and used a nifty deke to get Halak to bite before slotting the puck home.

With that, the Mellon Arena crowd was going crazy, sensing blood. An offense that made Halak look human on Friday with five goals in short order was once again in the head of the Slovak sensation. But this time, Halak did not buckle.

"I needed to be better, I knew that," Halak said. "I think the guys knew that they needed to step up. We did that tonight."

Offensively, it is little surprise Cammalleri and Gionta stepped to the fore. Cammalleri is one of the hottest goal scorers in the tournament and now has 8 goals in 9 postseason games this spring. Gionta, meanwhile, is the pulse of this team and has goals in each of the two games against Pittsburgh.

Gionta opened the scoring for Montreal by snapping home a pretty no-look, backhanded pass from Scott Gomez past Marc Andre Fleury.

Then, Cammalleri gave Montreal the lead for the first time in this series at the 7:27 mark of the second period with one of the prettiest goals of the playoffs.

On the play, Cammalleri collected a rebound of a point shot by PK Subban by kicking the puck into the air before he calmly swung at it with his stick and lined it past Fleury.

"Those plays are more reactionary," Cammalleri said of his moment of brilliance. "There isn't much time to think when it is happening."

Cammalleri added a late goal on a semi-breakaway to put the game out of reach and send Montreal back home believing it can continue its run as the giant-killers of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"There's a lot of people in this room that care very much and are willing to play whatever way we figure -- the coaching staff figures -- is the best way we're going to find a way to win that night," Cammalleri said. "And a lot of guys in here are willing to do that."

Shift of the game: After allowing four goals on as many power-play opportunities in Game 1, the Montreal penalty killers were facing a crisis of confidence in Game 2, especially with top PK defenseman Andrei Markov ruled out through injury.

But the penalty killers killed a huge penalty to Hal Gill that bridged the end of the second and start of the third period. Montreal was clinging to a 2-1 lead at the time. Pittsburgh managed three shots, but Montreal kept the attack on the perimeter for the most part.

Tomas Plekanec won a big faceoff, Josh Gorges blocked a shot by Sidney Crosby and Brian Gionta even managed a shot off the counter-attack that required a measured response from Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Montreal went on to successfully kill two more penalties after that and walk away with a 3-1 win.

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