For the fifth time this playoff season, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves in a must-win situation.
They faced three, must-win situations in the first round against the Washington Capitals, after going down 3-games-to-1 in that series, and they won all three of them. Last night they faced a must-win situation against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Bell Centre, and they won that one as well, 4-3, to set up yet ANOTHER must-win situation tomorrow night: Game Seven at the Mellon Arena; a date with destiny against the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
It’s been one helluva ride, and it’s not over yet.
There were plenty of Canadiens’ heroes last night. On most night’s following a Montreal playoff victory, we’re left waxing poetic about goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who had to “settle” for third-star status, after a 34-save effort. Halak came up huge when he had too, particularly in the third period, when he robbed Evgeni Malkin, who was parked on his doorstep, with seven minutes to play in regulation time. However, as good as he was, Halak wasn’t perfect on this particular night. You know he’d like to have the Kris Letang goal back; a shot from well out that found the back of the night, five minutes into period number two, that gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
As deflating as that goal could have been, to both the Habs and the 21,273 in the building, the Canadiens refused to let this one slip away.
You want another hero? How about Michael Cammalleri, with his second of the night, five minutes after the Letang goal, to tie it at two: a lovely backhander that beat a very average Marc-Andre Fleury in the Pittsburgh goal. Or how about Jaroslav Spacek, back in the lineup after sitting out nine games with a mysterious virus. On the very next shot on Fleury, 150 seconds after Cammalleri’s second of the night, Spacek let a shot go from just inside the blueline that drifted past Fleury to give Montreal a 3-2 lead.
Eleven shots: three goals. Those kinds of numbers aren’t going to win you very many Stanley Cups.
As soft as the Canadiens played through the opening 30 minutes (there was way too much scrambling going on deep in Montreal territory), they were that good over the final 30 minutes, frustrating the Penguins at every turn with aggressive forechecking and a defence corp that refused to give an inch along the blueline.
There was no bigger hero last night than Max Lapierre who beat Alex Goligoski not once, but twice on the same play while driving to the net, turning the Pittsburgh defender into a pile-on in the process, while beating Fleury for an unassisted goal. It was Lapierre’s third of the post-season, and put this one out of reach, at 4-2.
Let me say this about Max Lapierre: He is having a terrific playoff. He can still drive you crazy with that incessant yapping. But on that particular play, instead of looking to play the angles, he drove right to the net. Lapierre produced 13:55 of inspirational ice time, and, along with linemates Dominic Moore and Tom Pyatt, gave the Penguins fits all night. This is something we saw from Lapierre down the stretch and through the playoffs last season, but it’s something we didn’t see from Lapierre during the regular season.
Lapierre’s back, and his timing couldn’t be better.
Speaking of timing, I had to do a double take when I saw the numbers posted by defenceman P.K. Subban last night: 29:11 of ice time. Almost 30 minutes of hockey in the course of a 60-minute game, coming on a night when the Canadiens were without both Hal Gill, nursing the knee he cut up in game five, and Andrei Markov, who is out with a knee injury.
Another hero: Defenceman Josh Gorges, with the “A” on his jersey, logging almost 26 punishing minutes. He might not be the next Captain of this team, but he deserves some serious consideration for the job.
No shortage of heroes on this team last night. As a result of their efforts, it has come down to yet another game seven situation for the Montreal Canadiens. And you know what? I like their chances.