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Montreal Canadiens Scott Gomez (91) grabs Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby by the face during the second period in Game 3 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in Montreal, May 4, 2010. (SHAUN BEST/REUTERS)
Montreal Canadiens Scott Gomez (91) grabs Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby by the face during the second period in Game 3 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in Montreal, May 4, 2010. (SHAUN BEST/REUTERS)

Roy MacGregor

Big guns go silent Add to ...

There's no secret to winning playoff games.



Score more goals than the other guys.



It's how you get there, however, that can be so very different. Rare is the 6-3 Pittsburgh win that opened this Round 2 series between the Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens. More common - in this era of too many coaches and obsessive defensive systems - is the sort of game that was presented last night at the Bell Centre.



Final shots: 25-18 in favour of Pittsburgh. Final score: 2-0, also in favour of Pittsburgh.



Games like this usually come down to two critical factors: goaltending, obviously, but also the ability to shut down the known threats from the other side.



In Montreal's case, that would be Sidney Crosby, who leads all playoff scorers with 16 points on five goals and 11 assists, but who was held pointless in Montreal's Game 2 3-1 victory in which, at one point, he smashed his stick in frustration.



In Pittsburgh's case, that would be Mike Cammalleri, the top Montreal goal scorer with eight - including a near impossible soccer-kick-baseball-fungo goal that won the second match in this series.



"I've always liked the big games," a smiling Cammalleri said in the hours leading up to the anthems.



"There's nothing I can say," a stone-faced Crosby had said earlier when asked about his stick-smashing episode. "There's no excuses."



Neither needed the crowd or the flaming torch of the opening ceremonies to pump them up. Both began the game with warp-speed rushes down the centre of the ice, Crosby to a cloudburst of boos, Cammalleri to an explosion of hope.



The best scoring chance of either of the two came at the end of the first period, when Cammalleri again went end to end, fooled Pittsburgh defenceman Mark Eaton and barely missed picking the top corner on goaltender Marc-André Fleury's glove side.



Both were being shut down rather effectively, Cammalleri against a variety of Pittsburgh checkers, Crosby rarely on the ice without looking up and seeing hulking Montreal defender Hal Gill, a former teammate when Gill was with Pittsburgh, about to squeeze him out along the boards.



"It was a tight game both ways," said a disappointed Cammalleri at the end.



"They got the goal, we didn't."



While they were treated similarly, the two players are a study in contrast, Crosby thick as a stump from the waist down, Cammalleri's physique suggesting he should be swimming in the water rather than skating on it.



Crosby has his superstitions. The native of Cole Harbour, N.S., wears the number 87, which he takes from his birth date: 8/7/87. Teammates claim he lifts his feet and touches the window whenever the team bus crosses a railway track.



Cammalleri, 27 and from Richmond Hill, Ont. - grandson of Italian immigrants and Polish and Czech Holocaust survivors - wears number 13 and claims he fights superstitions. The closest he comes to one is with his sticks, always preparing four a game and numbering them differently, then deciding as the game progresses if the "feel" is right in his hands. He has played games with a single stick, played other games with as many as six different changes.



Both appear to thrive on pressure, Crosby the youngest captain to hoist the Stanley Cup and the overtime hero of Canada's gold-medal winning victory over the U.S. in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. While Cammalleri's special moments hardly compare, he has shown this spring that he can come through when the situation presents itself.



The great problem with containment, of course, is that it can lead to penalties. In the dying moments of the second period, Gill became too concerned with preventing Crosby from getting to a puck and drew a penalty. Twenty-thousand-plus fans chanting "Crosby sucks!" could not change the official's mind.



This allowed Pittsburgh the chance it needed when, just as the penalty was winding down early in the third period, Evgeni Malkin got a shot away from the top of the left circle and, with Crosby providing an effective screen, finally got a puck past Montreal's playoff superstar Jaroslav Halak.



He's a weapon you have to keep an eye on," Gill said.



Pittsburgh's second goal was in an empty Montreal net by Pascal Dupuis.



In the end, Crosby had no points and only one shot.



Cammalleri had only four shots, including one golden opportunity to tie the game late in the third period when he was given a perfect cross-crease pass from Brian Gionta and one-timed a shot that seemed destined for the net.



On another night, it might have been yet one more of the highlight-reel goals he has scored so often already this spring.



But it was not to be.



"I got it pretty good," Cammalleri said. "Maybe on another night I might have gone up."



Instead, Fleury made a magnificent save on the low shot, denying Cammalleri the big goal he so desperately wanted and the Canadiens the opportunity to try their luck at overtime.



Which brings us back ever again to the No. 1 secret to playoff victories.



Great goaltending.

 

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