Sports teams seize inspiration wherever they can find it, and the Montreal Canadiens seem to have cribbed liberally from Muhammad Ali's rope-a-dope manifesto in this playoff year.
As they did time after time against the high-octane Washington Capitals, the Canadiens were able to wrest Game 2 of their conference semi-finals with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a 3-1 Habs win despite being badly outshot and dominated for long stretches yesterday.
Like Ali's legendary Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman, the Habs scored a few points early, absorbed a barrage of blows, then struck back opportunistically, leaving their opponents tired, frustrated and not a little enraged.
After one especially robust second-period exchange with Montreal defenceman Ryan O'Byrne behind the net, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby angrily smashed his stick on Halak's goal post and hurled the handle away in disgust as he skated up the ice.
It's the kind of incident that will bring smiles of satisfaction to the faces of the Canadiens.
"[Frustration]definitely is a good thing, we obviously want to continue that," said Habs winger Brian Gionta, who scored Montreal's first goal on a nice feed from centre Scott Gomez.
In the four games they've lost in these playoffs, the Canadiens were outshot 135-121. In the five they have won, they have been outshot 220-125 (yesterday the count was 39-21).
The winning formula seems to be: eke out a lead and hang on grimly for dear life as the opponent fires shots at your goaltender, and collapse around the net.
Not that anyone in the Montreal room is willing to admit it's a calculated strategy.
"We don't want to sit back and get outshot two to one, but we're okay with it as long as we get away from the Grade A chances and are able to make good plays of our own," said winger Michael Cammalleri, who scored the winning goal and added an insurance marker; he now has eight goals in the playoffs.
In this case, as in the Washington series, Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak rebounded from a poor outing - in Game 1 he gave up five goals on 20 shots - to allow just one goal, on a nice deke from Matt Cooke, on 39 shots.
Despite his heroics, the Penguins don't seem to fear a repeat of Halak's first-round mastery of the Caps.
"He played really well. We had some second opportunities that we didn't get our sticks on or we got our sticks on and missed the net. He played solid, there's no doubt. … but we still had opportunities around the net there," Crosby said.
The Habs will have found it galling that Cooke opened the scoring in the first period, two days after his Game 1 hit on star Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov, now out indefinitely with an unspecified "lower-body" injury.
Though the Habs are undoubtedly a different team without their Russian blueline stalwart, they showed Pittsburgh they aren't without munitions.
Veteran Roman Hamrlik and 20-year-old rookie P.K. Subban filled in admirably for Markov, with Subban notching his third playoff point on Cammalleri's first goal - which the sniper scored by kicking a puck up in the air and whacking it home out of midair.
The Rexdale, Ont., native has now played in six NHL games, recording points in five of them, and his play was underlined by Montreal coach Jacques Martin and teammate Hal Gill, who said "I wish I could do half the things he does."
Subban, a two-time gold medal winner with Canada and the world junior championships, hasn't seem cowed or intimidated by the playoff atmosphere.
"In these moments, you can either do two things, just freeze up or you can grasp the moment and play for your teammates," said Subban, who played 23:17 minutes, third-most among Montreal defencemen.
The Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec observed that this year's edition of the Habs seem to have more sang-froid and is a calmer group than in past years - owing largely to having several Stanley Cup winners in their midst.
But the Penguins are unbowed.
"We faced this exact same situation last series and we responded well and that is what we will look to do here," Crosby said.Report Typo/Error