The Montreal Canadiens were back in action earlier this week in an exhibition game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tuesday’s game against the Leafs did not go the way the Canadiens had hoped, losing their advantage 4-2. digital leading to a large amount of self-inflicted pain in Montreal. Fortunately, this game was exactly what it was advertised: an exhibition. Saturday’s prime-time affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins was the real deal, as part of this postseason qualifying round in the NHL.
As the Penguins approached, Claude Julien kept his roster as it was on Tuesday, with the use of Dale Weise in the fourth row and a third defensive duo of Xavier Ouellet and Victor Mete. Obviously there was Carey Price, as Matt Murray’s fragile regular season wasn’t enough for Mike Sullivan to guess as a starter.
Unlike the Toronto game, the Canadiens didn’t give up a goal in the first thirty-three seconds, in fact, they controlled the opening quarter which ended with Jeff Petry shooting on the instep. from Kris Letang’s skate. When the Penguins second line under Evgeni Malkin regained control against Nick Suzuki’s line, it was Carey Price who kept the game scoreless, calmly blocking the pucks out of danger zones and sending his teammates to the ice with pace. Even when Malkin’s line landed a shot below the goal line on Price, the Habs goaltender was quick to sag and stop any rebellious sticks from pushing the puck loose at home.
As the Penguins piled up the shots, it was still Price who kept the Canadiens from giving up the first goal. Then, unlike so many times in the regular season, the Habs got a rebound to catch on, with great help from Jack Johnson.
Brett Kulak collected a pass that worked his way to his spot in point, and he let his shot fly towards the Penguins’ net. On the way he was deflected, and then as Johnson turned Jesperi Kotkaniemi over the puck hit the young Finn, penetrating over the line of his chest to give Montreal a surprising lead.
Montreal’s “momentum” nearly hit a stumbling block soon after as the Penguins were called in to interfere with Marcus Pettersson going to sit for two minutes. Somehow, improbably, the man advantage generated a lot of offense, and with a big save from Matt Murray was unhappy not to double his lead on the first power play in the evening.
The special teams action didn’t end there, as the Canadiens repaid the Penguins for their penalty with one of their own with less than three minutes left in the first period. The Canadiens’ penalty killers have proven to be just as powerful as the power play, limiting Pittsburgh to a decent look overall. Kris Letang pulled in a shot that Jake Guentzel hit away from Price’s glove, but the Penguins forward had his chance out of the goal post and away from goal, leaving the Habs firmly in the lead. The rest of the penalty kick went without incident and Montreal headed for the first intermission leading by a goal, but looking for a more consistent offensive presence in the second period.
Like the first period, the Canadiens didn’t really embody the spirit of grace on the ice and there were a lot of small mistakes. Namely Ben Chiarot returning a puck, falling while trying to defend Jason Zucker, but lowering his stick to always block the chance to score before getting to Price. They persevered through the opening moguls and managed to secure their two-man lead before the period was half over.
Suzuki carried the puck through the neutral zone, rushing towards Murray with a teammate flanking him to his right. The young center opted to call his own number, swiping his wrist past Murray’s waving glove and into the far corner.
Mistakes finally caught up with Montreal before long, Tomas Tatar being the one with the goat horns. As Brendan Gallagher scooped a puck off the boards, Tatar fled the area for an escape pass that never happened, and after a desperate comeback, Tatar landed a delayed penalty. That power play was never granted as Xavier Ouellet had his pocket before he could even touch the puck, and Sidney Crosby conceded his stolen puck to Carey Price to cut Montreal’s lead.
A somewhat suspicious penalty call led to another power play for the Penguins. Even though the Canadiens created several odd men’s looks while on the penalty kill, they failed to find a third goal. As has always been the case this year, a small slip from the penalty spot resulted in a goal, with a rebounding puck kicking off Ben Chiarot’s skates to Bryan Rust, who put it home for equalize the match.
Another late penalty, this time against Jonathan Drouin, gave Pittsburgh a chance to take their first lead of the night. Another strong performance from the penalty killers kept the score tied as the two teams headed into the second intermission.
Penalty issues continued into the start of the third period, with Phillip Danault starting for a slash and then Chiarot taking a seat soon after for cross-checking Sidney Crosby in the neck. In an intense, high-pressure three-on-five penalty shootout with their leading forward in the box, it was Suzuki who showed his worth as the Canadians fought off a fierce penguin attack.
Montreal had their own power play chance, which represented no goals despite some nice looks from Gallagher. Then it was back to another penalty as Paul Byron was called in to meddle. As was the case several times earlier in the evening, the penalty killers stood up, and Pittsburgh was once again denied any good looks with the man advantage.
Even a late penalty shot for Conor Sheary wasn’t enough to shake the stoic Price, who read the Pittsburgh forward’s shot throughout the course, and Sheary pushed his shot wide, missing the net completely. The Canadiens raced the rest of the time and overtime loomed in Game 1.
To say that overtime had it all was an understatement. The Penguins got another power play, which only resulted in a frustrated Malkin.Then, with the chance to be a hero, Jonathan Drouin drew a penalty shot from Jack Johnson, and the pressure might have to be too strong because he fully fanned his shot. .
As first overtime drew to a close, it looked like another extra period was on the slate, until a rebound found its way to a stick from a Canadiens defenseman. As Gallagher’s shot rebounded into the slot, Jeff Petry jumped up and dominated the overtime winner past Murray, leaving the fifth-seeded Penguins stunned.
Game 2 is Monday night and the Canadiens are full of confidence. Expect another very controversial case.