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Unsung Habs defence pair keep Crosby in check

Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby (L) collides with Montreal Canadiens Hal Gill during the second period of action in Game 2 of their NHL Eastern Conference semi-final hockey series in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 2, 2010.


It may be a group short on household names, but for the second series in a row, the Montreal Canadiens' makeshift blueline is getting the job done.

Even missing two key veterans, Andrei Markov and Jaroslav Spacek, the Habs' defence has limited Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby to just two assists - both on the power play in Game 1 - in two games.

Leading the way in the battle to keep Crosby's impact on the scoresheet down are the duo of Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, a pairing that played the bulk of the season together and quietly emerged as a top shutdown unit.

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While Canadiens coach Jacques Martin didn't have last change in the series' first two games in Pittsburgh, he was still able to get Gill and Gorges out against Crosby far more than any other pairing. Now, with the ability to match lines more easily at home, it's a matchup Martin will go to again and again Tuesday night in Game 3.

Having faced the Penguins six times this season, Gorges said they know what to expect.

"You can't give him room, you can't give him space - he's too good," said Gorges, who leads all Habs in ice time in the series with an average of 22 minutes 41 seconds a game. "He'll make plays. He makes plays even when you're in his face."

Limiting Crosby as much as possible, however, will be vital if the Habs have any hopes of advancing to the Eastern Conference final. In the first round, the 22-year-old Hart Trophy candidate torched the Ottawa Senators for 14 points in the series' first five games, earning a point on 70 per cent of his team's goals.

The Gill-Gorges tandem may be a bit of a curious choice for that role given the often lumbering Gill's 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame and Gorges's under-the-radar approach, but they were one of the keys in a Round 1 upset against the Washington Capitals.

Both players are also fitting focal points for the Canadiens given their underdog status.

Gill, for one, received only a minuscule raise in the summer after playing a big role in the Penguins winning a Stanley Cup last June, and is motivated to prove his worth against his former teammates.

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Gorges, meanwhile, has been proving himself for years, as he went unselected in both the Western Hockey League and NHL drafts and then captained his hometown Kelowna Rockets to the 2004 Memorial Cup title. Arriving via trade from the San Jose Sharks at the 2007 deadline, he has excelled in Montreal, becoming a leader and the winner of the team's unsung hero award this season.

Gorges admitted yesterday that some of the team's success so far in this series may be due to Gill's insight into how to get Crosby off his game.

"I think that helps a little bit," Gorges said. "Coming into the series, guys would go up to Hal and ask him about Crosby's tendencies.

"All we can do is try to slow him down as much as we can. If we can try to frustrate him and force him into bad plays, be all over him, maybe give him an extra shot here or there to let him know we're there - I mean that's all you can really do with a guy like that."

Gill and Gorges's success, however, would be all for naught if not for the play of rookie P.K. Subban, who looked like an NHL regular in just his sixth game in the league in Game 2 last Sunday.

Subban logged more than 23 minutes and has brought enough finesse to make the loss of Markov - to a suspected knee injury early in Game 1 - sting far less than it could have.

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His teammates say they're impressed with what Subban has brought to the lineup in such a short time.

"He's a little bit like Deion Sanders on ice, you know what I mean?" Mike Cammalleri said, referring to the flashy former NFL cornerback. "Prime Time, that's my new nickname for him. He moves well out there - he's smooth."

"Not your average 20-year-old," checker Dominic Moore said. "He's very poised out there and that's not something you can really teach. He's got it."

Facing Crosby

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has played about 32 minutes at 5-on-5 in Round 2 of the playoffs and has been held without a point at even-strength. Here's a look at the Montreal Canadiens defencemen he faced in Games 1 and 2, with the percentage of time they were on the ice with him.

  • Hal Gill 60 per cent
  • Josh Gorges 58.8 per cent
  • P.K. Subban 24.6 per cent
  • Roman Hamrlik 20.9 per cent
  • Marc-André Bergeron 18.2 per cent
  • Ryan O'Byrne 16.6 per cent
  • Andrei Markov 0.6 per cent

Source: James Mirtle,

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Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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