With the Pittsburgh Penguins favoured by many to take the Cup once again, the Montreal Canadiens proved the better team as they finished the defending champs off in a thrilling seven game series. The series concluded with a 5-2 victory from the Habs on Wednesday night.
The Canadiens have proven to be the most exciting team to watch in the entire post-season thus far. First they took out the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in seven games and now they’ve put away last year’s victors in another captivating full series that saw a heroic performance from Jaroslav Halak in goal that will go down in history.
Part of the reason for the success of the Habs against the Penguins was the containment of Sidney Crosby. Crosby was mostly playing against Montreal’s Hal Gill for the series and when the big defender was on him, Sid the Kid was kept quiet.
“I’m not going to sit here and complain about playing Stanley Cup finals and Olympic gold-medal games,” Crosby said. “That’s a good problem to have and you have to deal with it. There are times when it is a grind and you have to deal with it. By no means is that any excuse or any reason for anything. I would never blame that on anything. Those are great things to be a part of and you have to find a way to still produce and be successful.”
The game marked the last game of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey to be played in the Mellon Arena, too.
But for Montrealers, it was all about the victory and all about moving on to the next round. The celebration in Montreal was spectacular, but there’s still a sense of the destiny of this year’s Habs being unfinished. The Canadiens have proved surprising so far, at least for those who didn’t know this was going to happen all along, but the road ahead is still long.
“We have some special guys on this team,” Mike Cammalleri said. “It’s been a lot of fun to be part of … but we’re only halfway there.”
It’s worth noting that many analysts wrote the Habs off entirely in this post-season. The team came into the playoffs in the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and was expected by many to be a mere warm-up for the Capitals, but they used their small size and speed against the Washington team and pulled off the victory.
They put the same plan to work against the Penguins and isolated the star players with solid defensive play. With Halak to rely on in key moments, the Canadiens were then able to chip away offensively and worked the games down low. The plan didn’t always work, but when it did the Habs were effective at putting the puck in play and popping in a few important, decisive goals.
So now Montreal (and all of us) will have to wait to see what happens when the Philadelphia Flyers face off against the Boston Bruins for a historic game seven of another kind altogether.
Posted by Jordan Richardson.