Playing in the twilight zone
The Pens-Habs series is beginning to look very familiar. It wasn't that long ago that people were marvelling at the defeat of the Washington Capitals, the top-seeded team in the East, led by Alexander the Great. Many people said that it couldn't be done; others said that it would be a full sweep and that Montreal would never know what hit them. But that didn't happen.
The Habs managed to shut down the Caps with good defensive play. They were a full team, getting into the dirty areas and winning battles in the neutral zone for puck possession. Their goaltending was spectacular and Michael Cammaleri, fantastic. Despite the loss of a few key players to injury, this team still managed to hold its ground and find ways to win games.
If the win over the Caps was surprising, a win over the Pens would be like playing in the twilight zone. Pittsburgh is not Washington. They're a tough, gritty team that's already been there and done that in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They don't rely on their star players and get a ton of support from the point when they need it. Their goaltending is solid, good when it has to be and adequate when it doesn't. And their defense is not as lackadaisical as Washington.
So how is it that Montreal is taking them out with the same strategy that they used against the Caps when the Pens are a better team?
A tale of two Jaroslavs
Halak and Spacek have been magic in this series. Halak has been the best player on the ice when he's had to be and Spacek has been one of the better defensemen. He's all over his man like a pesky wasp at a picnic. By cutting off time and space to Pittsburgh's star players, Crosby, Malkin and Staal, the defense has made it nearly impossible for this team to braek out.
A side order of Cammaleri?
Prior to the trade from the Calgary Flames, many Montrealers could not pronounce the name Cammaleri, opting for the more commonly known appetizer, Calamari. He's also had to explain to the media that he prefers Michael to Mike. Despite the issues with the moniker and rumoured troubles in the locker room, this man is getting along like a house on fire in this series. With at least one point per game and many multiple point games, Cammaleri has overcome a trade, name issues, rumours, doubt about his size and pretty much anything else that was standing in his way of becoming a star.
Michael Cammaleri's jerseys are also selling like mad, showing up in pretty much every Canadian city. He's become a Habs hero and I'm pretty sure that the city will call him anything he damn well wants them to.
The man has won a lot for a man his age, but there are those rare moments when his age does come through. And I'm not talking about the dirty stache which is currently pencil thin and creepy. It's the unsportsmanlike behavior which earned him the nickname CryBaby Crosby back in 2007. A lot of talking, talking back, getting into it with other players, and some questionable dives are the things about Sidney that we'd rather all forget.
He can't continue to behave like this if he wants to win. Hopefully, the trip back home to Pittsburgh and the beloved Mellon Arena will help him cool off. His frustration level is way too high for him to play a focused game. He needs to be smarter and more strategic. He also needs to understand that if the defense wants to be on him, he needs to play on that.
If you know where the defense is, you also know where it isn't. That's why the best shots so far have come from the point from defensemen left alone with traffic in front. Crosby and his guys should be playing this smarter.
Granted, they got a lot of a good shots on goal that ended up just kissing the post. Kissing the post is something the Habs themselves may want to do, because it saved their lead plenty of times last night. More Twilight Zone type highlights. You have to get a little lucky sometimes.
Jordan Staal has been quieter since he came back from injury. While it's good to have him back on the ice, he's not quite himself. This is a shame, because this guy's a serious difference maker in games. He hits hard, he cycles fast, he has a great shot and you couldn't ask for a more focused player. When he's good, he's so good. But when he's coming back hurt, he's...a non-factor.
This seventh heaven game is going to be a nailbiter, a game that you won't be able to take your eyes off of, a thriller and a heartbreaker for one team and a triumph for another. It's still a coin toss as to which team will come out on top. As with every game in this series, it depends on which team comes out to play. We all know that these two teams can be amazing. And they'll have to be in this final.
Will luck be with the Habs? Will the stars come out to shine?
Your guess is as good as mine at this point.