Penguins lethal in series clinchers on road
When it comes to closing out a playoff series with Dan Bylsma behind the bench, the Penguins have the Montreal Canadiens right where they want them in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
That would be on home ice.
The Penguins have won five playoff series under Bylsma, all by clinching on the road — at Philadelphia, Washington, Carolina and Detroit last year and Ottawa this spring - and he hopes to keep it that way.
Owning a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, the defending Stanley Cup champions can advance to a third consecutive conference final with a Game 6 victory over the Canadiens at 7 p.m. Monday at Montreal's Bell Centre.
"It does provide us with at least some memory of winning on the road, doing it on the road, and I think that's a good thing," Bylsma said, noting their 22-16-3 regular-season road record. "We were a good team on the road and won a lot of games on the road, won in some tough places. You need to do that. You need to have that confidence. We'll draw upon that from our previous playoff games on the road this year."
The Penguins won their first four road games this postseason, including a deciding Game 6 victory in overtime at Ottawa in the first round, before losing Game 4 at what Bylsma called a "rambunctious" Bell Centre. They expect nothing less in their return trip, with Montreal facing elimination.
"Obviously, everybody still believes," Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak said. "It is 3-2, and we are still in there. We've been in this situation before."
Montreal faced a similar situation in its first-round series against top-seeded Washington before Halak stopped 53 shots in a Game 6 victory at home. The Canadiens then beat the Capitals at Verizon Center to win the series.
"When you're playing a team with their back against the wall like that, they're desperate," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "There's always that extra desperation. You've got to match that."
What the Penguins don't have to worry about is matching lines. While Bylsma said he wishes he had a secret for the road success, he did allow that the center trio of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal is a considerable advantage that allows the Penguins to focus only on playing the right way.
Even when they're not scoring.
Staal missed two games with a foot injury, but the trio has combined for only seven points in the series, with the lone goal by Malkin on a power play. Crosby and Malkin have made their mark in other areas, whether it's with their aggressive checking or serving as setup men to their line mates.
Crosby has gone six games without a goal and hasn't scored a point in three of his past four games. Crosby also hasn't scored a goal at Bell Centre since his rookie season, a nine-game drought.
But Bylsma noted that Crosby and Malkin are creating scoring chances, especially when he paired them together in Game 5. The Penguins expect the secondary scoring will eventually open things up for their superstar centers.
"It didn't add up to a point or a goal or an assist, but it is adding up to good hockey," Bylsma said. "When our team keeps playing like that, some nights it's going to be a Kris Letang that wears the cape or a Sergei Gonchar. We also know that, down the road, it's going to be Crosby and Malkin that have great chances to be the heroes, as well."