Another strong defensive effort and goals from defensemen Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar delighted the home crowd and propelled the Pens to a 2-1 victory against Montreal in game five of the best-of-seven series, moving the defending Stanley Cup champions within one win of a third consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Penguins’ coaching staff set the tone before the puck was even dropped by sitting under-achieving Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky. The two forwards haven’t contributed in either zone and, in my opinion, diminished the team’s overall aura because of their lackluster efforts.
Insert Mike Rupp and Bill Guerin and the black & gold have a completely different mind set. Tonight’s skaters ground down the visiting Canadiens from the opening seconds and carried the play most of the night.
Marc-Andre Fleury rebounded extremely well from a topsy-turvy game four by stopping several quality chances, tallying 32 saves on the evening. Montreal’s lone goal, a Mike Cammalleri marker with 31 seconds remaining, gave Penguin nation heartburn, but didn’t negatively influence Fleury’s strong performance.
Letang’s goal came on the power play with 1:42 remaining in the first period. The Pens won the first 18 minutes but didn’t have the lead, this goal firmly placed momentum in their corner. Gonchar added needed breathing room with his shot from the point that went into the upper corner midway through the second period. Sidney Crosby had a chance to end his scoreless drought but his hail mary from the offensive blue line at an empty net hit the side of the cage in the closing seconds.
The Versus commentators lavished praise on Evgeni Malkin for a “dominating” effort. Not sure I would go that far, but he did exert more energy on offense, serving as the point guard on several occasions, and maximized his back-checking on defense. He had the primary assist on Letang’s goal. Best news of the night on the Malkin front…his parents were shown on camera in the Igloo. Hopefully they are here to stay through the Stanley Cup finals!
Recent call-up Mark Letestu also deserves a note. Although he didn’t score on a couple glorious opportunities, the young forward put himself in positive positions and has earned Dan Bylsma’s trust enough to play late in a nailbiter.
The Penguins fought and clawed like they knew the importance of the game. So far this year, all four series that went to game five tied 2-2 have gone to the winner of this pivotal contest.
The Habs have earned tons of credit for their strong play so far in this playoff season. Their fans will be insane Tuesday night, hoping the series extends to another game seven. Pittsburgh must play with the same road-hardened mentality as they did tonight in order to have a chance to close out the scrappy eighth-seed.