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Penguins have a plan for Montreal

by Shawn P. Roarke
PITTSBURGH -- Bill Guerin said he was not surprised to be talking about the Montreal Canadiens as the Pittsburgh Penguins' opponent in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I'm not surprised," the veteran forward said Thursday, less than 24 hours after Montreal knocked top-seeded Washington out of the playoffs by coming back from a 3-1 series deficit with a 2-1 victory Wednesday in Game 7 in Washington. "I think more than Washington, (Montreal) played a team game. They didn't rely on three or four guys, they relied on everybody.

"You could see the way they were coming back into their own end and the way they were playing with desperation and not making high-risk plays. I'm not surprised at all."

Guerin has been through more than his share of playoff wars, so perhaps he is too hardened by the vagaries of the postseason to be taken by surprise. But few members of the Penguins thought they would be facing Montreal in a series that starts here with Game 1 on Friday (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS) after the No. 8-seed reached the elimination stage in Game 5 against the high-powered Capitals.

But an opportunistic, counter-attacking offense, a defense committed to shot-blocking and the heroics of goalie Jaroslav Halak combined to form the perfect storm and mark the first time in League history that a No. 8 seed has knocked off a No. 1 after trailing 3-1 in a series.

Now, a Montreal team riding the postseason wave invades Pittsburgh, looking to claim the defending champions as their next victim. And this Montreal team presents a far different challenge than Boston, which would have been Pittsburgh's second-round opponent had Washington defeated Montreal on Wednesday.

First there is the specter of Halak, the miracle worker, hanging over this series. In the three elimination games, the young Slovakian turned Washington's vaunted attack into a pop-gun offense that managed just three goals despite firing 134 shots.

Halak already was being canonized in the Montreal papers. One even represented the goalie as Jesus Christ in Thursday's edition. But the Penguins say that they are not preparing any differently for Halak.
"I think sticking to the game plan is more important than just preparing for a goalie," Guerin said.

"I think sticking to the game plan is more important than just preparing for a goalie." -- Bill Guerin

Guerin and the rest of the Penguins believe they are a different team than the Capitals, one that relies on heroics from more players and can generate scoring far deeper into their rotation of forwards. Pittsburgh believes it has the requisite fortitude necessary to make the area around Halak a hotly contested zone, and that the challenges Ottawa presented in the first round with their shot-blocking acumen only will help against Montreal.

One thing Pittsburgh says it will do is generate shots not designed to score, but rather to create rebounds and cause havoc around the crease, something that seemed to be sorely missing from Washington's attack.

While you can game plan for a hot goalie or the suffocating trap that Montreal has not been shy in deploying, it is much harder to game plan against a city or the mystique of the NHL's most famous franchise. Yet Pittsburgh must find a way to do just that.

Despite playing in nine playoff series -- including two appearances in the Final -- in the past two-plus postseasons, the Penguins readily admit they never have seen anything like what will play out during the course of the next week or more of this series; especially when the games are in Montreal, starting with Game 3 Tuesday at the Bell Centre.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said the Bell Centre, to his ears, was the loudest building in the first round of the playoffs. He knows his team will be challenged by that hockey-mad city in ways it has not been challenged during the past two years.

"Montreal is unique and we have and will be aware of some of the situations there," Bylsma said. "The fans, the media attention, some of our players being in or around Montreal; some of that will be different than if it (were) another city. But each round has its own situations, but this one is a little different.

"We'll talk about it and try to be aware of it and try to do everything to make sure our team is focused on the game and how we need to play, no matter how difficult or how loud a building might be or what city we are playing in."

Sidney Crosby has seen much in his young career. He accepted the Stanley Cup from Commissioner Gary Bettman last June after winning a Game 7 in Detroit. This February, he scored the gold medal-winning overtime goal in front of a rabid, pro-Canada crowd at the Vancouver Olympics. So he understands big moments. But he also admits Montreal in May could be as pressure-packed as any of those other times. 

"I think the playoffs are always emotional and this just adds to it," Crosby said. "That's the way I see it. I've never played Montreal in the playoffs. I can imagine what it's like, but I haven't been there yet so I can't tell you. I would think it is going to be pretty emotional.

"Watching the games on TV, they have played hard at home. We keep drawing on other series, but in Ottawa we saw a lot of that, a lot of big starts while their crowd was behind them, so we expect much the same."
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