Canadiens' Cammalleri giving Penguins fits
It was 24 hours before the Penguins and Montreal Canadiens would meet in the second round of the playoffs, and Mike Cammalleri, standing in the lobby of a downtown hotel, just had been informed of the record television ratings in Quebec during his team's stunning Game 7 upset over the Washington Capitals.
"I knew I made the right decision," he said, showing his admiration for hockey-crazed Montreal.
The Canadiens must feel the same way.
Cammalleri, in his first year with Montreal, is second in the league with eight postseason goals and has become a significant factor in this series.
"The guy is a heck of a hockey player, and he's showing everyone just how good he is," Montreal center Scott Gomez said.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak's brilliance and Montreal's unimposing but strangely effective defensive strategy are the main headliners entering tonight's Game 3 at the Bell Centre between the Penguins and Canadiens.
Also in the spotlight will be Cammalleri, who has quickly become a star in Montreal.
Cammalleri has given the Penguins fits, scoring three times in the past two games. Although Montreal's ability to prevent goals has been staggering, Cammalleri's penchant for scoring timely goals has been an important subplot in the Canadiens' magical run this spring.
"It's not like he had 10 scoring chances last game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Bylsma's point is that, quite simply, Cammalleri doesn't require many opportunities. Give him a chance, and he's liable to bury it into the back of the net.
He had two golden scoring chances in Game 2 and made the Penguins pay. He swatted the game-winner out of mid-air and iced the Montreal victory by blasting a wrist shot over Marc-Andre Fleury's glove on a late breakaway.
"He's shown over his career what kind of player he is," Fleury said. "You need to keep an eye on him."
The funny thing is, nothing suggested Cammalleri was going to have a big postseason. The 28-year-old forward, who started his career in Los Angeles before scoring 39 goals in a breakout campaign with Calgary last season, had only produced three points in six career playoff outings entering this season. Cammalleri had only scored one goal in seven career games against the Penguins before this spring.
Also, Cammalleri was in a funk before the playoffs, managing just four assists and no goals during the final 12 games of the regular season. Then, the playoffs arrived, and Cammalleri quickly showed why the Canadians gave him a five-year, $30 million contract last summer.
"He's never had a chance to play in too many playoff games before," Gomez said. "And he's making the most of it now. He's showing people what he can do and what kind of a player he is. We know he's a great player, and now everyone can see it for themselves."
If the Penguins are interested in advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the third consecutive season, more energy should probably be focused toward stopping the slippery Cammalleri. He is only 5-foot-9 and doesn't possess an eye-popping skill set but uses his quickness and savvy to score goals in big moments.
"He's got some unique gifts," Bylsma said.
Instead of playing their trapping style tonight, the Canadiens could prefer to use the home crowd to their advantage and spend more time in Penguins' territory.
Cammalleri would love to continue his hot streak.
"We don't want to sit back and get outshot, 2 to 1," Cammalleri said. "It's not like we're saying, 'We're OK with it. We're going to play this way the rest of the way.' No."