The visiting Penguins dominated the first two periods but held a precarious 2-1 lead with 20 minutes remaining in game five of their second-round series with Montreal. The Canadiens, backs firmly placed against the wall, responded with a scintillating third period and prevailed 3-2 to even the series (2-2) that heads back to Pittsburgh Saturday night.
The Pens had their shakiest defensive pairing – Alex Goligoski and Jordan Leopold – on the ice when the equalizer was scored. Just two minutes into the final stanza, Maxime LaPierre capitalized on a little league play by the defensive duo to take a loose puck and deposit a wrap-around behind Marc Andre Fleury. Gogo and Leo both pinned one Hab on the boards, leaving the puck to be scooped and scored by the opportunistic center.
With the crowd on their feet and momentum squarely on the home squad’s side, Lady Luck picked a dastardly time to play a role in the series. Brian Gionta carried the puck into the offensive zone and threw a cross off the waiting skate of Penguin d-man Kris Letang who promptly placed the game-winner in the corner to the right of his netminder with just more than 16 minutes left.
The Penguins had several chances to tie, including a power play midway through the third that provided some exceptional chances, but Canadien backstop Jaroslav Halak thwarted all comers. The young goalie was terrific once again and earned the victory by making 33 saves.
After Montreal opened the scoring two and a half minutes into the contest on a soft goal that seeped through MAF, the Pens responded one minute later when Max Talbot converted a breakaway by backhanding the puck through Halak’s five hole. As he was all evening, Evgeni Malkin was used as a decoy. When will the big Russian revert to his former self and start to contribute? The Pens chances may rest on this answer. Chris Kunitz put the Pens ahead 2-1 later in the first when his skate was the last to touch a puck that slid past Halak on a Pittsburgh power play
Easy to say that Pittsburgh should have had more of a cushion after carrying the play for 40 minutes, but they were beaten in the third by a desperate Montreal squad. Once again the series is on serve and the Pens will be forced to show a little desperation of their own Saturday night in the Igloo.
Sidenote: I really enjoy Doc Emrick as an announcer but I do have to disagree with his description of the Montreal fans tonight. He called them “knowledgeable.” In my estimation, an intelligent fan base doesn’t boo the opposing star player just because he possesses the puck. Sidney Crosby hasn’t even scored a goal in the series les habitants! The Montreal zealots also screamed like stuck pigs every time one of their Habs was dropped to the ice. Not every hit results in a penalty les habitants! Get a grip.
Another sidenote: Although he wasn’t a primary factor, it was great to see #11 playing again. Jordan Staal is a calming influence. I hope he is back with even more gusto Saturday.