Race2Four: Montreal mixed homecoming for Pens' French-Canadians
This was a homecoming for the four Penguins who grew up rooting for the Montreal Canadiens, playing in the postseason at the boisterous Bell Centre.
"It's special, especially for the French-Canadians," said defenseman Kris Letang. "We grew up watching them, coming in this building to see the games."
Games 3 and 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series proved to be a mixed bag of results for Letang, winger Pascal Dupuis, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Max Talbot.
In the 2-0 victory in Game 3, Fleury stopped all 18 shots and made several spectacular third-period saves, while Dupuis scored an empty-netter with 15 seconds remaining.
Dupuis said it was a thrill to win on the home ice of his childhood favorites.
"It's a great building," said Dupuis, a native of nearby Laval. "We all know in Montreal, when things go well for them, the building is great. And when things are shaky on their side, the building shows that, too."
In the 3-2 defeat in Game 4, Talbot scored on an unassisted breakaway to tie the score, 1-1, at 3:27 of the first period. But Fleury allowed two third-period goals, including the game-winner after Brian Gionta's centering pass ricocheted off Letang's skate at 3:40.
Letang declined interview requests afterward, but Fleury wrote it off as a fluke.
"He has to keep playing the same way," Fleury said of Letang. "He was doing everything right, trying to block the pass. He's doing fine."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma needs one win to pull even with former coach Scotty Bowman atop the club's all-time playoff victory list. Bylsma is 22-12 in six postseason series. A win over Montreal today in this second-round affair will give him the most series wins (six) in team history. A look at some of his most impressive playoff won-loss records:
On the road: 10-7
Following a loss: 9-2
Trailing first: 9-6
Penguins forwards Bill Guerin and Mike Rupp skated during the team's optional practice at Mellon Arena on Friday and, while still considered day-to-day, might play tonight when the Penguins host Montreal in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Guerin, who missed Games 3 and 4 with an undisclosed injury, now has practiced for two consecutive days. Rupp missed Game 4 with an unknown injury.
Other players who participated in the optional skate were forwards Mark Letestu, Eric Godard, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Craig Adams and Chris Conner; defensemen Jay McKee, Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland; goaltenders Brent Johnson and Brad Theissen.
GM Ray Shero has made a living pulling off dynamic trade-deadline deals that have pushed the Penguins deep into the playoffs. But thus far, his dealing for Ponikarovsky hasn't been as successful.
Ponikarovsky has just three goals and 10 assists in 26 regular-season and playoff games for the Pens, all while playing almost exclusively on center Evgeni Malkin's line. He's a minus-7, has just one goal in 10 playoff games and was demoted to the fourth line for much of the Game 4 loss in Montreal.
The home ice hasn't been as sweet to the Penguins this postseason. With two of the possible remaining three games in this series scheduled for Mellon Arena, the Penguins need to right the ship in their own building.
The Penguins are 18-4 over the past two postseasons, going 9-2 at Mellon Arena in each of the 2008 and '09 playoff runs.
This year, they are only 2-3 at the Igloo.
• The Penguins' power play is clicking at 30.2 percent this postseason, by far the best percentage of any remaining team.
• Sidney Crosby, with 17 playoff points, shares the postseason scoring lead with Detroit's Johan Franzen, who had six points Thursday against San Jose.
-- Josh Yohe
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
They still might not be favored to win this series, but the Montreal Canadiens must be feeling pretty good about their situation. Montreal is headed back on the road, and if anything has become evident about Jacques Martin's squad, it is an indifference -- or perhaps, even a preference -- for playing away from home. The first out-of-towners in Mellon Arena history would love to be the last ones, which will happen if the Canadiens win this series.
PENGUINS CENTER JORDAN STAAL, ON THE ABILITIES OF THE UPSTART MONTREAL CANADIENS:
"They're obviously playing really now right now. They're a confident team. They know how to play defense and how to clog things up in the neutral zone. They're tough."
BY THE NUMBERS
Montreal has been terrific on the road this postseason, playing sound hockey in Washington's Verizon Center and Mellon Arena.
Games in Washington (3-1): Game 1 -- Win, 3-2; Game 2 -- Loss, 6-5; Game 5 -- Win, 2-1; Game 7 -- Win, 2-1
Games in Pittsburgh (1-1): Game 1 -- Loss, 6-3; Game 2 -- Win, 3-1
Penguins center Jordan Staal, on the abilities of the upstart Montreal Canadiens:
"They're obviously playing really well right now. They're a confident team. They know how to play defense and how to clog things up in the neutral zone. They're tough."
Penguins center Jordan Staal, on returning from his foot injury:
"It is good to be back. There's no question. As a player, you are obviously nervous about jumping in after missing a couple of games. All those questions kind of shoo away after the first couple of shifts. I felt pretty comfortable throughout the game."
Penguins left wing Matt Cooke, on a deadlocked series with the eighth-seeded Canadiens:
"It's the playoffs. There is always a desperation level, but I would hesitate to say there is concern. We feel like we are doing things the right way and playing the right way."
Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski, on the reasons for this series tied after four games:
"I don't know if it's him (Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak) so much as it is their defense as a whole and the way they're playing. We're not going to get frustrated. We're going to stick to our game."
Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton, on the Canadiens' level of play late in Game 4:
"I don't think we matched their desperation in the third period. You have to tip your hat to them. They came out and did what they had to do."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, when pressed to assess right wing Bill Guerin's status for today on a one-to-five scale:
"Billy Guerin is day-to-day."