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Pens use PP goals to beat Montreal in series opener

by Shawn P. Roarke
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh's perfect storm swamped Round 1 hero Jaroslav Halak and his Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals here at Mellon Arena on Friday night.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called for a "storm in the offensive zone" to try to get Halak, the Montreal goalie who stopped 131 of the final 134 shots he faced against Washington in the first round to knock off the top-seeded Capitals in seven games.


Bylsma's charges responded with stunning efficiency, going 4-for-4 on the power play and scoring five goals against Halak on their first 18 shots before the goalie was yanked in favor of Carey Price with 14:06 remaining in what would become a dispiriting 6-3 defeat.

"We made plays and capitalized on the chances we had," said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who set up two of the four power-play goals. "That's what it came down to. I think we gave ourselves a good chance of doing that though.

"We entered the puck well; we controlled it well there and shot it when we had opportunities to shoot. All the things that we need to have success. They are not always going to go in like that, you are not always going to go 4-for-4 (on the power play) if you execute; but we did the right things there."

The Penguins did the right things all night. They put traffic in front of Halak. They shot judiciously, making sure they had a chance to either test the goalie or provide a second chance for their crease-crashing forwards. They changed the point of attack repeatedly with quick movement of the puck in the offensive zone. And they punished Montreal's zeal to block shots by using that over-aggressiveness against the visitors.

That game plan resulted in power-play goals by Sergei Gonchar, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, as well as an even-strength goal by Craig Adams and an empty-netter by Bill Guerin. The goals by Gonchar, Letang and Goligoski all were examples of Pittsburgh defensemen letting shooting lanes open before pulling the trigger.

"I thought we just did a good job of not  blowing shots through guys," Bylsma said. "We had our heads up and we were conscious of our shooting lanes and we got pucks to the net. Fortunately, we got some goals by (Halak) early."

Pittsburgh scored three power-play goals in the game's first 23 minutes to erase any momentum that Montreal had created with a goal by rookie defenseman P.K. Subban 4:30 into the game. Adams scored late in the second period to make it 4-2, and Goligoski's slam-dunk of a Crosby feed early in the third made the Penguins 4-for-4 with the extra man -- something that occurred just once in the regular season's 1,230 games.

With that outburst, Pittsburgh shattered the production Washington managed in the entire first-round series. Montreal killed 32 of 33 man-short situations in the stunning upset of the Presidents' Trophy winner.

The efficiency that marked Montreal's PK in Round 1 was completely absent Friday night against a Pittsburgh team that was far more patient -- and far more ruthless -- with the man advantage.

Perhaps some of Montreal's struggles came because of the first-period injury to defenseman Andrei Markov, who is a key to both the penalty-kill and power-play units. Markov suffered a leg injury after he was checked hard into the boards by Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke. He left the game at that point and did not return; his status for Game 2 is unknown. Canadiens coach Jacques Martin would say only that it's a lower-body injury and that Markov would be examined again on Saturday.

Pittsburgh also suffered what could be a potentially devastating injury as Jordan Staal also was felled by a leg injury as he collided with Subban during a second-period penalty kill. Staal limped off the ice and did not return. He will be evaluated further Saturday, according to Bylsma.

But even without Staal, the Pens were unstoppable – especially on the power play.

"(The power-play) was huge because you know how Halak was so good and so dominant," Pittsburgh forward Max Talbot said. "So it's nice to have a couple of goals on him to start the series. And then after you look at Washington only have one goal on the power play we had four tonight.

"Not that it's going to stay like that all series because they're obviously going to make adjustments. But I think we came out strong on the power play moving the puck and getting some quality chances and that was in the game plan."

It was a game plan that took Halak out of his comfort zone and put Montreal under the type of pressure they rarely faced in the series against Washington.

To see Halak skate for the bench early in the third period as the sold-out Mellon Arena crowd reveled in his misery was a shocking sight; after all, this was the goalie who just 48 hours ago was lauded for singlehandedly bringing the game's most potent offense to its knees.

But Halak looked tired at points in Friday's game and Martin felt that at 5-2, it was a good time to pull Halak, perhaps giving him a little more rest before Sunday's Game 2, which starts at 2 p.m. ET.

"I think after the fifth goal, I just felt like we needed a change," Martin said. You want to change something and try to change the momentum of the game."

There was no changing the momentum of Game 1, however, as Montreal was repeatedly put into situations it had yet to face in the playoffs by Pittsburgh's aggressive game plan.

In fact, when Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, it marked the first time in these playoffs that Montreal trailed after the first period.

"Special teams was definitely the difference tonight," said Montreal center Scott Gomez, noting that the teams each scored two goals during 5-on-5 play -- and one of Pittsburgh's was the empty-netter. "We'll go over it. We battled to the end and you've got to like that."

But, the Canadiens, who received goals from Subban, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, know they will have to do more than just battle when the series resumes in a little more than 36 hours. They will have to have a plan to counter Pittsburgh's storming of the offensive zone.

"There's a reason why they hoisted the Cup last year," Gomez said. "You make mistakes and they're going to jump on them. We'll regroup. Everyone picked it up. We were right in it, but we still made some mental mistakes that just can't happen against those guys."

Shift of the Game: Pittsburgh clearly wanted to punish the Montreal defense as it tracked back to get the Penguins' dump-ins. Nobody did that better Friday night in Game 1 than Matt Cooke. With a little more than 11 minutes gone in the first, Cooke came in hard on the forecheck and lined up Andrei Markov in the corner with a punishing check as he released an outlet pass up the ice. Markov crashed into the boards awkwardly, suffering a leg injury, and did not return in the game, leaving Montreal's vaunted PK unit in disarray.

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