The Montreal Canadiens have come back to life in Montreal. That's saying a lot considering how hard it is to play in this city. The Habs rallied for a win over Pittsburgh to tie up the series at 2 and this is one heck of an achievement when you consider the following things that they've overcome:
-Being the 8th seed and getting that final place in the playoffs
-Facing the top seed, the Washington Capitals and their monster of a Captain, Alexander Ovechkin
-Losing Markov, their best defenseman
-Playing at home to a rabid crowd with sky-high expectations
-the goalie debate that never should have happened and hopefully will now remain closed
-bad officiating in last night's game
-Facing the defending Cup champions (all healthy, all there)
Are the Pens really all healthy and all there? Jordan Staal did come back to play after having surgery on his foot, but did he play up to his normal level? He didn't look slow, but he didn't look fast either. Evgeni Malkin took himself out on the boards a couple of times and was slow to get up afterwards. Given that he's not prone to theatrics, I don't think those slow recoveries were sympathy bids. And what happened to Crosby? This man's been wearing a target on his back since day one, but he's found ways to bury it and overcome that. But he's letting the Habs get to him and you have to wonder whether or not he's going to change up his game.
The refs didn't bother to call a lot the other night and some of the things that they did call were questionable. It appears that there are some identical errors being committed by both teams, but only one of them, (Montreal), is getting called for them. I can't explain this kind of discrepancy other to say that this does look familiar (Ottawa-Pittsburgh series) and you can't help but think that the refs are somewhat partial.
The Habs can do great things when they play together and it looks like they're doing just that. They seem to understand now how to surround Crosby, but they're still having a bit of trouble keeping an eye on Malkin. Malkin was given the run of the ice the other night, getting lots of chances on the side of the goal, which is right where he likes to be to unload that hip shot. That's a dangerous shot, and if it weren't for the fact that Halak is rock solid, that game would have been as good as lost.
If the Habs were to continue leaving Malkin with so much time and space, that would be the end for them. You can only play with fire so long until you get burned and this guy will burn them if they don't learn to contain him better. This isn't just the Crosby show they're up against. This is a two-headed offensive monster and they need to keep an eye on both.
Fleury has gone back to being adequate. This was not his game, either. That first goal that slipped by him was just unforgiveable. There was no good reason for him to let that shot go in. That was just a slow, weak reaction from a goaltender who has had little to do in the playoffs. Fleury's better than this and if he doesn't step up, the Pens are lost.
Crosby's had more stick malfunctions in the past few games than anyone I've seen. They keep breaking up in his hands, once on the slash that didn't get called and another time, just off a shot he fired. Of course, we can't forget the one that he actually broke off the net in that Sunday game loss. Is he falling apart like his sticks?
For the Habs to win, they have to keep going the way that they've been going so far. They have to keep playing together, keep their defense very active and scrappy, contain both Crosby and Malkin, and keep a bubble shield around Halak to protect him.
For the Pens to win, their two-headed offensive monster needs to be recharged and ready to fight, Fleury has to step up his game and keep his attention on the game, Staal has to get himself back to his regular standard of play, and their defense needs to be better organized.
And Crosby's going to need another 20 sticks.