Stanley Cup Qualifiers: Game 4
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For the first time in the series, the Montreal Canadiens had what could be described as a solid start in Game 3. After getting outshot 10-2 early in the first contest, then nearly completely outmatched (with the exception of their goaltender) in the opening 40 minutes of Game 2, Montreal was the team in command of the opening minutes on Wednesday, and they got out to a deserved 1-0 lead.
Mike Sullivan made a brilliant move just after the goal was scored. He challenged the play for goaltender interference and took the penalty when that review went against him. The Canadiens didn’t score on the power play, and any momentum was scrubbed.
At the opposite end of the ice, the Penguins were the first club to figure out the power play after two contests dominated by the penalty kills. They scored one goal while up a man that actually negated a five-on-three opportunity, then scored while the newer sentence was being served as well. After a quick start, the Canadiens soon found themselves trailing, and seeing a much more skilled lineup finally capitalizing on its chances deflated the team. From the end of Montreal’s first power play to the a third of the way through the second period when the lead was extended to 3-1, the Penguins were in full control.
Shockingly, it was on another power play that Montreal began to turn its fortunes around. Sending out the second unit as a way to shake things up, the Canadiens launched a barrage of shots toward Matt Murray. They didn’t score, but they carried that play through to the next shift to get the lead to one. That same phenomenon of riding momentum on a power play to a goal allowed them to first erase the deficit and then take a lead in the third period, a 4-3 edge they didn’t relinquish.
Montreal looked like a completely different team on the ice than what we’d seen from them for much of the season, with pucks zipping through passing lanes in the offensive zone. The lineup changes all seemed to be positive ones, and the Canadiens must have left the game feeling very confident going into Game 4.
Tale of the Tape
|2.67||Goals per game||2.67|
|2.67||Goals against per game||2.67|
The feeling is more one of determination for the Penguins. They know they shouldn’t be trailing in a series versus the 12th seed, and feel there’s much more in the tank.
No one has more to prove than Evgeni Malkin, and he said so in his media availability yesterday afternoon (while also including Kris Letang and birthday boy Sidney Crosby in his group of players needing to up their game). Malkin has just a single point in the series, outproduced so far by each of Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi through three games.
Having one of the most prolific offensive teams of the past 15 years backed into a corner will create the greatest challenge any of those Canadiens centremen have faced to this point of their NHL careers. Danault didn’t get a shot at contributing to an elimination of a post-season opponent in his only other series back in 2017, while Suzuki and Kotkaniemi are getting their first experience in such a high-intensity tournament at the top level.
You wouldn’t know it was Kotkaniemi’s first go-round watching him play. He has shown quite incredible composure for a player who turned 20 years old one month ago, holding pucks to make last-second plays and confidently carrying the puck out of his own zone, while also showing off his offensive skills. He’s proving to be a great player in high-stress situations, just months removed from a demotion to the AHL that had many fans worried about his future.
The wrong approach would be for Montreal to simply try to survive the 60 minutes of today’s game. Pittsburgh’s star players don’t need much of a lapse to score a goal. Carey Price has proven he can withstand a frontal assault, and is a major reason why Montreal has this opportunity to advance today, but he won’t be able to do it on his own.
The Habs have the depth and overall game to put pressure on the Penguins, and forcing them to play a little defence at five-on-five is how they’ve gotten to two wins. If they play the way they did in the second period of Wednesday’s game, getting skilled play from the defence and smart decisions from the forwards on their way up the ice, they’ll get a great shot at moving on to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.