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Habs frustrate Penguins in series-tying win

| Monday, May 3, 2010

To appreciate Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is to know he is neither boastful nor bothered easily by criticism.

Still, the words he chose after being held without a goal for a fourth consecutive contest Sunday afternoon should give fans reason to believe Malkin and the Penguins will respond favorably to a 3-1 loss against the Montreal Canadiens at Mellon Arena.

"I know I'm not scoring. People are a little bit, maybe, mad," Malkin said after he missed on three of seven attempted shots and finished, along with fellow superstar center Sidney Crosby, without a point.

"It's OK. It's not bad. We'll go to Montreal, and I think we'll win the next game, and my game will be better (by) 100 percent."

The Penguins, whose power play was 100 percent on four chances in a Game 1 home win, failed to score on the advantage in Game 2, leaving this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series tied, 1-1.

The series shifts Tuesday night to Montreal's Bell Centre, where the Penguins must win at least once to claim the series.

The defending Stanley Cup champions can expect a deafening experience in the capital city of hockey for Game 3.

The Penguins should be a bit more concerned than they're letting on about possibly becoming the Washington Capitals, who couldn't close out these upstart Canadiens in Round 1 despite constantly owning edges in shots and offensive-zone time.

Most of Game 2 was spent in the Montreal defensive zone, and the Penguins owned an 18-shot advantage.

However, chew on this indigestible point: Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak has held the following three players without a goal in his past four games: Malkin, Crosby and Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin.

Those three players have combined to win three each of the Hart Trophy as league MVP and Art Ross Trophy as the scoring champion. Last postseason, Malkin was the playoff MVP and Crosby the leading goal scorer when they combined for 29 goals and 67 points.

The Penguins humbled Halak in Game 1, chasing him from the contest after he surrendered five goals on 20 shots through about 45 minutes.

Even with that performance, after 38 saves in Game 2 he has turned aside 184 of his last 193 shots faced — an astonishing .954 save percentage.

"It should just be our strategy: Let Jaro face about 50 shots," Canadiens center Scott Gomez said, tongue firmly in cheek after he assisted on a tying goal from winger Brian Gionta and a winner by winger Mike Cammalleri, who scored twice for his NHL-best seventh and eighth postseason markers.

"We tried to keep (Penguins shooters) to the outside, but they still got some good chances."

Aside from an opening goal by left wing Matt Cooke, the Penguins' chances weren't good enough. At least, not according to Malkin, who mostly skated with wingers Alexei Ponikarovsky to his left and a returning Tyler Kennedy to his right.

"We played a lot in the offensive zone and didn't score," he said. "Everybody thinks, 'Goal, goal, goal.' We just need to play our game."

Malkin is a year removed from reaching rarefied air with his game - something he agreed must happen again with third-line center Jordan Staal (right foot) likely to miss weeks.

He had gone without a goal in five straight contests before Game 3 of the second round last postseason, where the Penguins trailed the Capitals, 2-0.

Malkin tallied in a Game 3 win at home and scored nine goals in the next 15 games as the Penguins stormed past the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings by going 11-4 to win the Cup. They benefited from 24 points by Malkin in those games, and he recorded a point in all but four contests.

Coach Dan Bylsma conceded that after this loss some people might look at Malkin's 2010 playoffs — four goals and nine points, but only a goal and three points at even strength — as him not giving the Penguins enough.

Bylsma suggested judgment on Malkin shouldn't come "until the end of (this) series."

History suggests the end won't come without Malkin making his mark.

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