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Montreal Canadiens' Mathieu Darche gets a glove in the face from Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury during second period of Game 4 NHL Eastern Conference semi-finals hockey action Thursday, May 6, 2010, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Montreal Canadiens' Mathieu Darche gets a glove in the face from Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury during second period of Game 4 NHL Eastern Conference semi-finals hockey action Thursday, May 6, 2010, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Roy MacGregor

Habs' winning formula: Get to Fleury Add to ...

It seemed like the only sensible thing to do, under the circumstances.

The Montreal Canadiens would embrace the most obvious plan in hockey - score one more goal than the opposition - and they would do it, they swore, by making life difficult for Marc-André Fleury, the Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender who had shut them out here Tuesday.

"Put more pucks at him," said leading Montreal scorer Mike Cammalleri. "Put more traffic at him."

"Get in his kitchen," said defenceman Hal Gill.

"Under the skin," added defenceman Josh Gorges.

As Cammalleri put it: "We want to make it so he has to be great."

The Habs won 3-2 on Thursday night to even their best-of-seven series 2-2. Game 5 is Saturday night in Pittsburgh.

The 25-year-old Penguins goalie has proved he can be great, but also very much not great in a short career made up of question marks and exclamation points. His dying-seconds save on Detroit Red Wings defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom decided the Stanley Cup less than a year ago.

The year before that, however, he basically scored on himself when, unaware of the puck's whereabouts, he sat on it and sent it into the net for a goal that turned out to be the Stanley-Cup winner for Detroit.

Then, of course, there was the famous 2004 world junior championship incident when a much-younger Fleury cleared a puck into the leg of his own defenceman, bouncing it into his own net and thereby giving the United States the gold medal.

The Sorel, Que., native has been known to struggle with his confidence from time to time - friends say the goalie with teeth as big and white as his pads can get down on himself easily - and the Canadiens and the Bell Centre crowd were determined that he would have every opportunity to, as they sort of say in hockey, dirty the bed.

"Fleurrrrrrrr-eeee!"

"Fleurrrrrrrr-eeee!"

"Fleurrrrrrrr-eeee!" they chanted in derision in the lead-up to the anthems and again in the first minute of actual play.

And it appeared to work. He easily stopped a long drive by Cammalleri but blew the second shot of the game when, only 2:34 into the opening period, Montreal's Tom Pyatt sent a harmless shot toward the net from the far boards and, somehow, the puck leaked in through.

"Fleurrrrrrrr-eeee!"

"Fleurrrrrrrr-eeee!"

"Fleurrrrrrrr-eeee!"

Two shots, one goal. As Montreal forward Glen Metropolit had said earlier in the day about Tuesday's loss to Pittsburgh on Fleury's shutout: "Whoever scores that first goal last game wins."

Unfortunately, for Metropolit - and mercifully for hockey fans - no two games are ever the same. Less than a minute later it was tied up when Montreal's 20-year-old defenceman P.K. Subban got trapped (snared might be a better word) over the opposition blueline and Maxime Talbot was given a free channel to drift in on the Montreal net and slip the puck past Jaroslav Halak. Another two minutes and the Penguins were ahead when a loose puck danced twice off Chris Kunitz's skates and into the Montreal net.

As for the Pittsburgh game plan, Sidney Crosby had said they would stick with what has served them so brilliantly this spring on the road: "Just simplify." So far it had given the Penguins four successive road victories, three over the Ottawa Senators, one against Montreal.

So simple was the Pittsburgh game plan - be patient, draw penalties if possible, nothing high risk - that by the end of the second period Montreal had counted only nine shots on Fleury, most of the long range and harmless.

If this was getting in his kitchen, the fridge was empty and the stove off.

Someone must have reminded them of their grand afternoon plan between the second and third period, because they finally began to deliver on that promise to get into Fleury's face and under his skin and, if possible, behind his back with the all-important puck.

Maxim Lapierre scored on Montreal's second straight wraparound attempt with bodies all around the crease. It was the second straight goal that Fleury should have had and it began a new round of chants.

"Fleurrrrrrrr-eeee!"

"Fleurrrrrrrr-eeee!"

"Fleurrrrrrrr-eeee!"

And then, as hockey is a game no coach can plan, no system can predict, the Canadiens went ahead when Pittsburgh defenceman Chris Letang stumbled in his own kitchen and a puck shot by Montreal's little Brian Gionta went in off Letang's foot.

"Whether it goes in off a skate or is a pretty passing play," said a disappointed Sidney Crosby at game's end, "they scored."

By sheer fluke, the Canadiens had won a game it appeared they had lost in the first period. Halak had not allowed a goal since the 5:18 point of the first period; Fleury had allowed two, one bad one, one fluke.

"We all wish we had a goalie that stopped every puck in every game," said Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma.

"It hasn't happened yet."

No, but some nights a Jaroslav Halak - who stopped Evgeni Malkin on a clear breakaway in the dying minutes - makes you think it is possible to come close.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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