Second-round preview: Pens-Habs
Suddenly, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They'll now face the Montreal Canadiens, who became the first No. 8 seed to erase a 3-1 series deficit and defeat a No. 1 seed thanks to their shocking 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.
The Habs will once again be heavy underdogs against the defending Stanley Cup champions. But you know what? We don't think they mind.
As for the Penguins, this will be the first playoff meeting between Sidney Crosby and his boyhood favorite team, a team that long ago drafted his father, Troy. The Penguins had a few stutter-steps in knocking off Ottawa in six games in the first round, but they rebounded from a 3-0 deficit in the clinching game, just as they did against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round last year.
1. Between the pipes: As anyone who's watched the Penguins during the past two postseasons can attest, netminder Marc-Andre Fleury goes a bit sideways every once in a while. A crazy carom will beat him, or he'll fall down behind the net, or he'll whiff on a long shot. But likewise, Fleury can bring the goods when it matters. He was excellent in Ottawa on Saturday after the Pens fell behind 3-0 and then stormed back to win in overtime. He will face Jaroslav Halak, who was yanked in Game 3 but later returned with a vengeance and stopped 131 of the last 134 shots he faced against the Caps. As Washington coach Bruce Boudreau noted after his team was dispatched, he wouldn't bet against the Canadiens if Halak can keep up this level of play.
2. Kings of the road: The Penguins went 3-0 on the road against Ottawa and won the clinching game away from Mellon Arena for the fifth straight playoff round. The Pens scored 15 goals in those three road games and allowed nine. Meanwhile, all the Canadiens did was win three times at Verizon Center, so neither team is likely to be intimidated in the opposing building. Speaking of which, this series will feature two of the loudest fan bases in the NHL. Should be a treat.
3. The play for power: A number of factors went into the Habs' upset of the Capitals, but you can start with how they neutralized Washington's vaunted power play. The Caps scored just once with the man advantage in 33 chances and did not score a power-play goal after taking a 3-1 series lead. Meanwhile, the Canadiens scored enough times, six times in 30 attempts, to keep the Capitals off balance. The Habs will look for more of the same against Pittsburgh, which gave up seven power-play markers on 22 opportunities versus the Senators. The Penguins weren't any slouches, either, with seven goals in 28 chances. This all suggests that staying out of the box will be a key.
4. The Big Three: Every preview we say the same thing: Until a team shows that it can contain the Penguins' Big Three -- Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal -- down the middle, it will have little chance of unseating the defending champs. It was Staal who controlled the puck down low in overtime to set up Pascal Dupuis for the Game 6 series clincher versus Ottawa. In total, the three collected 10 goals and 15 assists in the first round, and the Canadiens will have to do better than that.
5. The Little Four: The interesting thing about the Montreal-Washington series was that the Canadiens didn't try to trade body blows with the talented Caps, but used an opportunistic attack by their small-in-stature-but-large-in-skill group of forwards, led by Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez.
In Montreal's first three wins over Washington, Cammalleri gave the Canadiens an early lead, and he is the most dangerous of the Habs' forwards with his quick release and wicked shot.
• Habs' defense versus Pens' top guns: For all the abuse he's suffered at the hands of fans wherever he's played, Hal Gill was a key part of the Canadiens' penalty kill and helped neutralize Alex Ovechkin during the latter stages of the opening round. Expect Gill, a big part of the Pens' run to the Cup last spring, and Josh Gorges to see a lot of old friend Crosby.
• Pittsburgh: Crosby was held off the score sheet in Game 6 against Ottawa, snapping a five-game multipoint streak (during which he put up five goals and nine assists). Ruslan Fedotenko was a regular on Malkin's line through most of last year's Cup run, but the streaky winger has fallen out of favor with coach Dan Bylsma and was a healthy scratch for all but two games in the first round.
• Montreal: Cammalleri had 10 points in the opening-round upset of Washington. This is just his second playoff appearance. Marc-Andre Bergeron did score on the power play in Game 7 but played just 4 minutes, 6 seconds and has essentially been reduced to power-play time. He was minus-7 in the series.
• Too much Crosby and Malkin for the Cinderella Habs. This will be fun to watch, and the atmosphere should be electric, but it's pumpkin time. Penguins in six games.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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