The mark of great teams comes down to an Irving Berlin tune: Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).
When the Montreal Canadiens try to avoid elimination from the NHL playoffs on Monday night at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of their own fans, they will have that going against them - plus the numbers. The numbers show that the last six times the Canadiens were knocked out of the playoffs, going back to 1998, it happened on home ice.
And the last five times the Penguins won a playoff series, including the Stanley Cup last year, they have done so on the road.
The Canadiens, of course, can counter with another number - 21,273. The wall of sound created at the Bell Centre by Montreal's raucous and inspiring fans played a role in their surprising win in Game 4.
But the notable difference in this Eastern Conference semi-final, which the Penguins lead 3-2, is that no matter how hard the Canadiens work to shut down superstars Sidney Crosby (no goals in this series) and Evgeni Malkin (one goal), the Penguins have managed to stay just ahead of them. This is thanks to rest of Pittsburgh's roster and the fact the bulk of the scoring in this series has shifted from the forwards to a trio of offensively gifted defencemen: Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski.
Gonchar and Letang handled the scoring in Saturday's 2-1 win and the trio has a total of five goals and 10 points in five games against the Canadiens. At the same time, the Canadiens are trying to deal with mounting injuries to their defencemen, who have contributed a total of three points to their team's efforts.
The latest injury may be the worst blow yet if Hal Gill cannot play Monday. He suffered a laceration to the back of his leg when Penguins forward Chris Kunitz stepped on him in the third period. Gill hopes to play in Game 6 but that decision will be made Monday. The Canadiens are expected to have Jaroslav Spacek back.
"When our team keeps playing like that, some nights it's going to be Kris Letang who wears the cape or Sergei Gonchar," Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday. "But we also know down the road it's going to be Crosby and Malkin who have great chances to be the hero as well."
Bylsma's point was that even though Crosby and Malkin are not running up the points against the Canadiens, they are still creating scoring chances and playing well in the other parts of the game.
"When you see Sidney Crosby on the fore-check knock Hal Gill down, you know he's not just worried about getting his points, he's playing the game," Bylsma said. "There are numerous scenarios where away from the puck - like some of the chances Evgeni Malkin got - it didn't add up to a point or a goal or an assist but it is adding up to good hockey."
Good hockey is also having the forwards jam the front of the Canadiens net to block goaltender Jaroslav Halak's view of the puck as the defencemen hammer it in from the point.
"I don't think we've ever as a team not decided to use our points," Bylsma said. "It's part of how we play and how we want to play, both coming out of the D [defensive]zone on a rush and in the offensive zone.
"Some teams give you more space up top than other teams."
As a group, the Canadiens are collapsing around Halak, which has been effective in blunting the threat from Malkin and Crosby. Malkin was the best skater in Saturday's game, weaving around the Canadiens at will, but he was still denied when it counted (although he did get an assist on Letang's goal).
It was the third- and fourth-line forwards like Michael Rupp, Mark Letestu and Bill Guerin who made the difference. While Bylsma said he would still like them to create traffic in front of the net more consistently, they did it enough on Saturday to get both goals. With Marc-André Fleury finally providing a counter in the Penguins net to Halak, that was all they needed.
"Given the way [the Canadiens]pack all five guys in down low, the big thing for us is to just get it through and on the net," Goligoski said. "We've had some opportunities."Report Typo/Error