Penguins rip Canadiens
Pittsburgh powerful in opener
Everything that worked so perfectly against the Capitals was failing miserably against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who might exploit a weakness better than any team in hockey.
Defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski each had a goal and an assist, and the Penguins shredded the Montreal penalty-killing unit that Washington never solved in the opening round. Pittsburgh beat the Canadiens, 6-3, last night in the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Sidney Crosby set up two goals, and Jordan Staal and Sergei Gonchar also scored as the Penguins’ improved power play went 4 for 4. By contrast, the Canadiens killed 32 of 33 Capitals’ power plays in the first round.
The secret? According to Crosby, there was no secret.
“We talked about getting traffic, we talked about getting pucks through, and we executed — that’s the difference,’’ Crosby said. “When you do the right things, you give yourself a chance. We got some good areas to get shots away. I still think we can get more shots, still think we can generate more.’’
Bill Guerin added an empty-net goal and had an assist as the Penguins won Game 1 for only the second time in five playoff series.
The Stanley Cup champion Penguins, winners of eight of 10 series since 2007, are in position to take a 2-0 lead in Game 2 tomorrow at home. Both teams might be without key players in that game as Staal (right leg) and Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov (lower body) sustained injuries.
The Canadiens repeatedly turned aside rush after Capitals rush while becoming the first No. 8-seeded team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to beat a top-seeded team, but the Penguins employed a much different strategy. They repeatedly screened goalie Jaroslav Halak and, rather than carrying the puck through traffic and into Montreal’s collapsing defense, they instructed their undefended point men to keep pumping one-timers at the net.
The Penguins’ first three goals — by Gonchar and Staal in the first period and Letang early in the second — all came from center point and couldn’t be stopped by Halak, who turned aside 131 of the Capitals’ final 134 shots. Against Pittsburgh, he let in five goals on 20 shots.
Halak was pulled early in the third for Carey Price, several minutes after Goligoski made it 5-2 by scoring off Crosby’s setup.
“They beat us in the special teams department,’’ Montreal forward Scott Gomez said. “I mean there’s a reason they hoisted the Cup last year. If you make mistakes, they’re going to jump on them.’’