Fearless prediction I: The Bell Centre will be VERY LOUD on Monday night.
Fearless prediction II: If the Canadiens outshoot the Penguins 33-25 in Game 6, this series is going to Game 7.
Too much optimism after a loss in which the Canadiens were shut out for 58 minutes, 31 seconds?
Maybe so, but this team gave the Stanley Cup champions all they could handle in their own barn.
A bounce here, a white shirt on a rebound there and the Canadiens are coming home with a chance to clinch.
As it was, however, Marc-André Fleury was very good on first shots … and there were precious few second ones.
Hal Gill is the latest Dman to go down, victim of a Chris Kunitz skate stomp that sliced him behind his left knee
But it ain’t over.
The 2-1 loss is nothing to spend Sunday moping about.
Frustrated by inability to score and bounced around by Kunitz, Michael Rupp, Brooks Orpik and Craig Adams (20 hits among them, seven by Kunitz), the Canadiens never quit.
They never do.
And they would have won if more than one of Mike Cammalleri’s NINE shots – including one in the frantic final seconds – had eluded Fleury.
Playing without two Top Four defencemen, Andrei Markov and Jaro Spacek, the Canadiens battled admirably for 60 minutes. They continued to do many of the good things that have made this an interesting series, notably shutting down Sidney Crosby.
The world’s best hockey player has not scored in this series.
Crosby had one shot on goal. Another five were blocked. He was 7-11 on faceoffs.
Crosby continues to do other things well. He had an astounding play to stay onside on one sequence, and Crosby works hard in his own end.
But the Canadiens have kept a lid on him.
Evgeni Malkin? Not so much.
Malkin had six shots on goal. He used his size, speed and skill to buzz around Jaro Halak’s goal, and no one could take the puck away from him.
Pittsburgh’s size advantage was an important factor. On both of their goals, scored by defencemen Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar, Jaro’s view was obstructed by Penguins: Bill Guerin on the first goal, Rupp on the second.
The Canadiens never get that kind of net presence. During their power plays, Brian Gionta has to pretend he’s Dustin Byfuglien.
That’s a major item on Pierre Gauthier’s off-season shopping list: a forward who can do a credible impression of Big Buff or Johan Franzen.
When he first arrived from Minnesota, Benoit Pouliot looked like the kind of player who would be a net-crasher. But Benny’s game is in the toilet, evidenced by a team-low 5:59 of ice time in Game 5.
Tom Pyatt played 14:20. I love Pyatt, but he doesn’t have Pouliot’s O-zone game. And neither does Mathieu Darche, who played 9:01.
Pouliot is not the only one in a slump. Tomas Plekanec has not scored since an empoty-netter in Game 6 against Washington.
Pleks is skating and working hard. He was 16-7 on faceoffs.
But his playoff performance has not enhanced Pleks’s chances of a signing a big contract, with the Canadiens or as a UFA.
Jaro, on the other hand …
Blameless on both goals, Halak made 23 saves, including several big ones (a beauty on Malkin, in 2-on-1 with Crosby) that prevented the game from becoming a rout. He got a lot of help from the Canadiens’ depleted D, which blocked 22 shots – six by P.K. Subban.
If Gill can’t go, we’ll see Jaro Spacek on Monday. He’ll help the PP, which is really missing Andrei Markov.
“We’re in a must-win,” said Scott Gomez, who’s been really good.
They’ve been there before – three win-or-g-home games against the playopffs’ top seed.
Pittsburgh is not Washington. The Penguins have made adjustments throughout the series, fine-tuning this, tweaking that to stymie Canadiens’ strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
Jacques Martin has done likewise.
Game 6 will be a good one.
• • •
AK46: one shot, one hit, one wasted first-round draft choice.
• • •
Line of the night:
Ron Maclean: “We’ve got Sidney Crosby standing by.”
Don Cherry: “Is there no one
else on that team that can speak English?”
• • •
I still can’t believe Alain Vigneault throwing his goaltender under the Vancouver bus.
If the Canucks fold, someone may lose his job out there … and it won’t be Roberto Luongo.