Race2Four: Habs have shot at Mellon history
The Montreal Canadiens have produced many remarkable accomplishments in their unparalleled history, chief among them winning a record 24 Stanley Cup championships. Hockey's most storied franchise can add another notch to its belt tonight.
It isn't often that a franchise can open a building and close it, but the Canadiens possess such an opportunity.
Montreal played in the first game in Mellon Arena history — it was called Civic Arena then — defeating the Penguins, 2-1, before 9,307 fans Oct. 11, 1967. Andy Bathgate scored the first goal in Penguins history that night.
Who will score the final goal in Penguins history at Mellon Arena• The answer could come Wednesday night, should the upstart Canadiens finish off a seismic upset of the Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Penguins own a 7-4 record in Game 7's, though they are only 2-4 at Mellon Arena in such contests. They are playing a Game 7 at home for the first time since June 1, 1996, whien they lost to the Florida Panthers.
Montreal is still facing an uphill climb. The Canadiens, who stunned Washington in the first round, are attempting to become only the second No. 8 seed in NHL history to win more than one playoff series. Only the No. 8 seed Edmonton Oilers, who reached the 2006 Stanley Cup final, came from the back of the field to win more than one series.
Race2four: Win or loss
Perspective on the Penguins in Game 7 from the Trib beat reporter Rob Rossi:
The Penguins will win Game 7 because ...
» They come out swinging — and usually land some shots — when backed into a corner. Focus on the Game 7 road wins last postseason, but don't overlook sweeps of Games 3 and 4 at Mellon Arena to even both series. The Penguins are 10-2 after a playoff loss in games coached by Dan Bylsma. That record suggests a mental toughness that should serve them well in this high-pressure situation.
» They win at home when they need to in the playoffs. Since returning to the postseason in 2007, the Penguins' home record after a road loss over that span is 7-0. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed 10 goals in those games. His reputation as the NHL's best big-game goalie was mostly forged by making Mellon Arena a house of horrors for visiting clubs when the proverbial money is on the table.
» They have the power to bust this game open. The best recipe for Game 7 success is to grab the first lead, as the Penguins did in their Game 7s last spring. The surest method for scoring first is capitalizing on power-play opportunities. The Penguins have scored eight power-play goals in this series. They are 5 for 10 at Mellon Arena, where they are 2-0 against the Canadiens when scoring on the advantage. In a one-game playoff, one power-play goal can make all the difference.
The Penguins will lose Game 7 if ...
» The home crowd adds to a tense situation. The momentum swing in Game 7 at Washington last spring was Fleury's denial of Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway. Capitals fans who witnessed six playoff series losses to the Penguins went silent after that save even though the game was tied. Penguins players cited that momentum shift as having afforded them a chance to find their footing in what became a 6-2 victory. Facing the prospect of a fifth home loss in Game 7 and the final game at Mellon Arena, Penguins must keep their cool tonight.
» The centers of attention don't earn it. While acknowledging that center Jordan Staal is playing on a surgically repaired right foot, he and fellow centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have produced only three goals in the series. Their star-studded depth down the middle has separated the Penguins from the Eastern Conference playoff field the past two springs, but the Canadiens' tight defensive-zone play has neutralized the Penguins' great advantage. Forget playing well without scoring — it's time for the aptly-named "Big Three" to score a couple of goals.
» Jaroslav Halak plays the hero. For all the praise heaped at him, Montreal's goalie hasn't had to steal a game in the series. He's capable, and he's due. That alone should be enough to convince the Penguins that "getting in his grill" with crease-crashing is the way to go in this game. He won't stop most of the pucks he can't see, but Halak is a groove goalie who prefers high shot totals. By settling for long-range shots with nobody at the net, the Penguins are tempting fate with their Cup defense on the line.
"When you go into a series, you have to prepare to play seven games. You don't want to lose. You know ultimately that it could take seven games." — Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, on playing a Game 7.
"You know one team is going to be going home for the summer. There's a lot of things that go into that. It's not just the emotions of the crowd. It's getting ready, getting focused to play one game and the winner goes on." — Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, on the consequences of playing a Game 7.
"I don't think there's a nervous energy. It helps to bring the emotions out. To come out on the ice with our fans behind us, it's a feeling we haven't had with this team since I've been here." — Penguins winger Chris Kunitz, on playing Game 7 at Mellon Arena.
"I think that the passion that other people show probably isn't under the same camera lens as the one that was on 87 at the end of the game last night, but we know we're in a battle. We care deeply and want to win desperately. We want to move on. We know what's at stake. That passion, that fire that you see from Crosby is there for our team. It shows itself in different ways." — Bylsma, on Crosby showing frustration at the end of Game 6.
"I still think the Penguins are going to win this series. They are a better team. Crosby and Malkin have been in this situation many times before and they always seem to rise to the occasion." — ESPN analyst and former Penguins player Matthew Barnaby, on Game 7.
Behind enemy lines
It was widely believed that Montreal defenseman Jaroslav Spacek would be out for the second round of the playoffs because of an ear injury that was badly hindering his balance. Instead, the defenseman played a huge role in Game 6. Spacek, replacing the injured Hal Gill, made a couple of top-notch defensive plays and finished off a solid return by blasting the game-winning goal past Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period.
He said it — Penguins' Sidney Crosby
"It's not like they're just throwing some defenseman out there who hasn't been in a big game before. Spacek has been around and he's very good defenseman."
History with seven
Wednesday night's game against the Montreal Canadiens at Mellon Arena is the 12th Game 7 in Penguins history. The Pens are 7-4 overall, but just 2-4 at home. A breakdown of the 11 previous Game 7's:
JUNE 12, 2009: DRINK IT IN
The Penguins brought the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh by upsetting the favored Red Wings, 2-1, in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena. Max Talbot scored twice and Marc-Andre Fleury made 22 saves, including a diving stop as time expired to preserve the franchise's third Cup title. For the second consecutive year, the Penguins lost the first two games of the Cup Final in Detroit and trailed 3-2 heading into Game 6. This time, they reversed history with a 2-1 victory at Mellon Arena, setting up the winner-takes-all showdown in Detroit. Talbot was the unlikely scoring hero as the Penguins played much of the game without Sidney Crosby, whose left knee was injured in the second period. "It was tough for Sid, obviously, but we were confident," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "It wasn't going to faze us. We weren't going to be denied." Fleury capped a frantic final minute with some sensation saves, none bigger than when he robbed Nicklas Lidstrom's shot before the buzzer sounded. "You've got to make those big ones if you want to be a champion," Fleury said. "That was a big one — the biggest of my life."
MAY 13, 2009: MAD CAP FINISH
The Penguins started the Eastern Conference semifinal against Washington by dropping the first two games at Verizon Center. Ever resilient, the Penguins clawed back with three consecutive wins, two coming in overtime. The Capitals, however, forced Game 7 with a 5-4 overtime victory at Mellon Arena. Capitals star Alex Ovechkin finished with 14 points in the series — one more than Penguins counterpart Sidney Crosby — but he was a non-factor in the decisive game. "Maybe it's 1-A and 1-B, but going into Game 7, (Crosby) is the guy you want on your team," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. Crosby scored two goals in the 6-2 Game 7 victory. He helped the Penguins storm to a 4-0 lead just 2:13 into the second period, sending Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov to the bench. Crosby and journeyman Craig Adams scored eight seconds apart in the first period to send the Penguins on their way to face Carolina in the conference final.
MAY 10, 2001: SABRES SEE A GHOST
In a bizarre Eastern Conference semifinal against the Buffalo Sabres, the Penguins won the first two games at Buffalo, then lost three in a row. They won Game 6 in overtime after Mario Lemieux's miraculous tying goal late in regulation. Game 7 at HSBC Arena was looking like a lost cause until Robert Lang tied it midway through the third period. The unlikeliest of heroes — defenseman Darius Kasparaitis — won it, 3-2, when he beat legendary goaltender Dominik Hasek in overtime with a wrist shot from the edge of the left circle. No one who watched will soon forget "Kaspar" racing to center ice, diving on his stomach and kicking his legs in the air to celebrate; he'd scored one goal in his previous 56 playoff games. As Kasparaitis so aptly put it, "I can't believe I did that." Neither could his teammates. "I haven't seen him score a goal in practice since I've been here," said veteran winger Kevin Stevens. "He's got the worst wrist shot in hockey."
MAY 4, 1999: DEVIL OF AN UPSET
The eighth-seeded Pens, under coach Kevin Constantine, fell behind top-seeded New Jersey, 3-2, in the first round but beat the Devils in Game 6 thanks to a heroic performance from injured captain Jaromir Jagr. The Penguins then went into New Jersey and shocked the Devils, 4-2, to complete perhaps the biggest upset in franchise history. Nobody slid on their stomachs, but Martin Straka did a celebratory slide on his back by the benches after he scored the Penguins' fourth goal. Each member of the second line — Straka, Alexei Kovalev and German Titov — scored to support the goaltending of Tom Barrasso. A still-injured Jagr, battling a bad groin, assisted on two goals. "I could not watch," Jagr said. "I had to play."
JUNE 1, 1996: OH, RATS!
This is the closest Mario Lemieux came to reaching a third Stanley Cup final. The upstart Florida Panthers — whose fans threw plastic rats onto the ice — won Game 6 of this Eastern Conference final, 4-3, then stunned the favored Penguins with a 3-1 victory at Civic Arena in Game 7. Current Penguins assistant Tom Fitzgerald delivered the dagger, a 55-foot slapshot 6:18 into the third period that eluded Tom Barrasso and broke a 1-1 tie. It changed direction after deflecting off the stick of Penguins defenseman Neil Wilkinson. "It was near the end of a shift, and I just wanted to get a shot on net," Fitzgerald said afterward. "I didn't even see it go in." John Vanbiesbrouck made 39 saves for the Panthers, and the Penguins played without injured star Ron Francis.
MAY 18, 1995: WREGGET UNBEATABLE
In a near-repeat of their 1992 series, the Penguins fell behind the star-crossed Caps, 3-1, in the first round, then lit up rookie goaltender Jim Carey to force Game 7 at Civic Arena. Norm Maciver's breakaway goal 1:37 into the game — two Capitals' defensemen collided — would prove to be all the scoring the Penguins would need in a 3-0 win. Ken Wregget stopped 31 shots for the shutout. Afterward, Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld said, "We have to give a lot of credit to Ken Wregget. I thought he had himself a whale of a game."
MAY 14, 1993: DAVID WHO?
The Penguins finished the regular season with a NHL-record 17-game winning streak, then crushed New Jersey in first round and were expected to destroy the Islanders on their way to a third consecutive Stanley Cup. Many players from that club still believe it was the greatest team in Penguins history. But it couldn't finish off the Islanders, who won Game 6, 7-5, in Long Island, then stunned the Penguins, 4-3, in Game 7 at Civic Arena when obscure forward David Volek beat Tom Barrasso at 5:16 of overtime (Tom Fitzgerald also was on this Islanders team). The game got off to a horrific start when Penguins winger Kevin Stevens collided in mid-air with Islanders defenseman Rich Pilon. Stevens sustained massive facial injuries. It marked the third time the Islanders eliminated the Penguins in the deciding game of a playoff series. The Islanders played the series without their best player, Pierre Turgeon. "Without a doubt, we should have won it," Penguins defenseman Larry Murphy later said. "It just goes to show: The best team doesn't always win the Stanley Cup."
MAY 1, 1992: CAPITAL MELTDOWN
On the way to defending their first Stanley Cup, the Penguins ran into a road block in the first round. They trailed the Capitals, 2-0 and 3-1 in the series. Finally, the Pens pulled back, switched to a passive trap and befuddled the Capitals in winning three in a row. In Game 7 at the Capital Centre, Mario Lemieux scored a short-handed goal on Don Beaupre and set up Jaromir Jagr with the eventual winner, a power-play goal at 9:40 of the second period. Ron Francis scored an empty-netter to account for the 3-1 final. The New York Times described the ending of the series this way: "The closing scene at the Capital Centre was a strange one, with thousands of visiting Pittsburgh fans chanting and cheering and howling long after the final buzzer and the traditional exchange of handshakes at center ice."
APRIL 15, 1991: BIG-TIME BLOWOUT
After stealing Game 6 of a first-round series in New Jersey — the game in which Pens goaltender Frank Pietrangelo made "The Save" — the Penguins returned to Civic Arena and destroyed the Devils, 4-0, in Game 7, despite losing Mario Lemieux to back spasms after the first period. The Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup under coach "Badger" Bob Johnson. Defenseman Paul Coffey gave the Penguins a boost by returning to the lineup after missing two games with a scratched cornea. Lemieux scored before departing, Coffey scored on a Pietrangelo assist, and veteran Czech winger Jiri Hrdina added two goals. "It should have been finished (in Game 6)," Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko said afterward. "Instead of killing them when they were down, we gave them a chance to come into it."
APRIL 29, 1989: WREGGET RUINS A DREAM
The Penguins hammered the Flyers, 10-7, in Game 5 of this Patrick Division final but lost Game 6, 6-2, then dropped Game 7 on home ice, 4-1, as Flyers backup goalie Ken Wregget — the future Penguins netminder — stoned the Pens with 39 saves. Wregget learned the morning of the game that he would play in place of injured starter Ron Hextall. "The nerves were phenomenal," he said later. "I remember the hotel room, trying to sleep, seeing the big silver dome (of Civic Arena) outside of my window. It was kind of ominous." Brian Propp, Dave Poulin, Mike Bullard and Scott Mellanby scored for the Flyers.
APRIL 26, 1975: UTTER DESPAIR
Ed Westfall scored the only goal — a backhander that beat goaltender Gary Inness — with 5:18 left in regulation to complete the visiting New York Islanders' comeback from a 3-0 deficit, a hole no other NHL team has escaped from since. Only one team, the 1942 Maple Leafs, against Detroit in the Stanley Cup final, had done it previously. The Penguins had their chances; Pierre Larouche hit the post twice. Westfall was late leaving the dressing room after the game and ran into Penguins center Syl Apps, who wondered why Westfall was all by himself. "I told him, 'Everybody left. Where are you guys going?' " Westfall later recalled. "He said, 'The Pleasure Bar.' So I went with the Penguins players and their wives to the Pleasure Bar and sat there drinking until sunrise."
— By Rob Rossi, Kevin Gorman and Josh Yohe