After the game, everyone talked about patience.
Both teams played carefully, as evidenced by no goals and 26 shots, 16 by Pittsburgh, through the first 40 minutes.
The Canadiens don’t have much choice in playing a conservative style.
Missing their best defenceman, matched against an explosive opponent and, let’s not forget, coached by a man one might charitably describe as risk-averse, the Canadiens were not about to play run-and-gun against the Stanley Cup champs.
But while hermetic defence frustrated the mighty Washington Capitals in the opening series, it was the not-so-mighty Canadiens who were stifled by Pittsburgh’s mastery of the kind of mistake-free style that wins more often than not in the playoffs.
What loses, more often than not, is 18 shots on goal – 11 over the final two periods of a tight game.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said his team expected the Canadiens to come out aggressive, spurred by frenzied fans in their own building. But after weathering a first period in which they were outshot 7-3, the Penguuins setled into a safe, grinding style that wore the home team down and produced a 22-11 shot advantage over the last 40 minutes.
“We played a patient game,” Bylsma said. “We weren’t trying to score on every rush.”
Instead, as the game progressed, Pittsburgh worked to prevent the Canadiens from scoring on every rush. The best way to do that is to minimize rushes, and the best way to do THAT is by getting pucks behind the D and working down low.
Bylsma mentioned the effort of Sudney Crosby.
Pointless and with only one shot to show for his 22 minutes and change of ToI, Crosby got into a puck battkle with Hal Gill late in the second period. Giving away pounds and inches, the league’s best player worked the puck until Gill drew a holding penalty.
After Josh Gorges and Kris Letang got into a tussle that resulted in roughing minors at the end of the second period, the Canadiens began the third with their two best penalty-killers – Gill and Gorges – in the penalty box.
That left Roman Hamrlik and P.K. Subban to cope with a Pittsbugh power play that patiently – there’s that virtue again – worked to set up the Geno Malkin laser that won the game.
Marc-André Fleury, making his first playoff start at the Bell Centre, was full value for the shutout. Fleury didn’t have a lot of work, but was sharp throughout – notably with a right-pad save on Tomas Plekanec.
Another element of Pittsburgh’s textbook road game was discipline.
Notwithstanding several scrums and much chirping, the Penguins took only minors for tripping. And while the Canadiens exhibited good Markov-less puck control on their power plays, Fleury and the Penguins’ PK did not yield any high-percentage chances.
Jacques Martin called it an “excellent” hockey game.
I wouldn’t go that far. There were long stretches when not much happened, little sutained pressure in either offensive zone, no odd man rushes or dazzling displays of individual skill.
It was grind-it-out playoff hockey, and Pittsburgh – playing with the patience and quiet confidence of defending champs – did a better job of grinding.
Not much gloom and doom in the Canadiens’ room.
The players had been through a battle – Gorges was sporting a fat lip – but the game was not a one-sided stomping.
No one had an egregiously bad outing.
Andrei Kostitsyn skated, hit and won some ice time on the Tomas Plekanec line and on the PP.
MAB played 20:46. He teamed with Ryan O’Byrne, and while the pairing reminded no one of Serge Savard and Larry Robinson, they weren’t embarrassed by the Penguins.
The Canadiens have done a good job, through the first two games of containing Crosby. But Malkin’s seeing-eye goal and his seven shots are an ominous indicator that Geno has stirred from his slumber and could be a major problem for the Canadiens through the rest of the series.
• • •
Brian Gionta had seven shots and Mike Cammalleri four of the Canadiens’ total of 18.
Held shotless were Glen Metropolit, Travis Moen, Dominic Moore, AK46 and Tom Pyatt.
Despite playing with Gomez and Gionta most of the game, Benny Pouliot managed only one shot and had a couple blocked.
• • •
A playoff first: Mathieu Darche dressed but didn’t set foot on the ice.
Man, Sergei is buried so deep on this team you coul;dn’t find him with truffle pig.
• • •
“I don’t want to sound cynical,” said a veteran Pittsburgh beat writer, “but all these fans booing Crosby should try to get a decent quote of him in an interview.
“Then they’d really have something to boo.”