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Physical play powers Pens past Canadiens

| Sunday, May 9, 2010

Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar fired a couple of rockets past Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak in the Penguins' 2-1 victory over Montreal in Saturday night's Game 5 at Mellon Arena.

As impressive as those shots were, Halak probably would have stopped them if he had seen them.

The Penguins have preached the importance of creating traffic in front of Halak, and their plan worked well enough to earn a 3-2 series advantage.

Not surprisingly, the return of two physical forwards made an enormous difference. Bill Guerin and Mike Rupp, neither of whom is a stranger to screening a goaltender, had a hand in both goals.

"You have to give guys like Billy and Rupper a lot of credit," Letang said. "They do their job, getting in front of the goalie. That helps. That's a hard job -- not a lot of reward -- but they do it so well."

Montreal coach Jacques Martin all but admitted that such goals are somewhat unstoppable.

"It happens," he said.

Guerin and Rupp replaced Ruslan Fedotenko and Alexei Ponikarovsky in the lineup, and there is no question that the Penguins were a more physical bunch last night.

Letang gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal that was only possible because of a Guerin screen. Standing in front of Halak and defenseman Roman Hamrlik, Guerin helped pave the way for a Letang bullet that beat Halak to the stick side.

"You can talk about getting (to the front of the net)," captain Sidney Crosby said. "Everybody wants to do it, but it's not easy. It was a great job by those guys battling to get position."

Rupp, a physical force throughout, made his presence felt on the second goal. He said after the morning skate that he would attack the net with authority; he backed up his words by being largely responsible for Gonchar's goal.

Rupp started the play behind the Montreal net, eventually feeding Evgeni Malkin. Mark Letestu took possession and found Brooks Orpik at the left point as Rupp drove his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame to the net. Orpik found Gonchar, who blasted a puck past Halak from the right point.

"I thought that we established ourselves, and we didn't stop doing that," Rupp said. "In prior games, we've been out of gas for a while, and we'd go back and forth. We did a good job of sustaining the pressure."

When the Penguins weren't creating havoc in front of Halak, they were pounding Montreal into submission. Rupp and Craig Adams were especially physical on the fourth line, and Adams threw the game's biggest hit, crushing defenseman Josh Gorges late in the first period.

Even Crosby, again held off the score sheet, leveled defenseman Hal Gill in the first period.

"We wanted to make sure we got to our game the right way, create momentum," Crosby said.

In Game 6, look for the Penguins to attempt to duplicate that game plan.

"That's an indication, both of those goals, on how we need to score goals," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Mike Rupp did a good job of doing that, and Billy Guerin as well -- two big additions and two big goals."

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