Friday, May 14, 2010

Cinderella Lives On as Habs Take Game 7...What happened?

Nights can happen where nothing just seems to go right. The refs make bad calls, the goalie let's in a softie and so on. But how often do those nights happen to the Pens in high pressure moments in the playoffs? Can't remember the last time the Pens got rattled, maybe in the first couple games of the Detroit series in 2008, but that's it.

Tonight the Pens were doomed and all of us including critics, fans, and experts thought this would be a tight hockey game going into the 3rd period. But the dam would break just 10 seconds in, 10 seconds!!! Sid knocked down Gorges and was called for boarding, very iffy penalty but that's fine. On the PP just 20 seconds into it Gionta deflected a PK Subban shot and somehow some crazy way it snuck in between Fleury's right arm and right pad, 1-0 Habs.

A goal like this, just seconds into the game, was clearly deflating for the Pens. It wasn't the start they wanted nor were expecting. But so what? It's only a one goal game, time to regroup because there are still 59 minutes to play. The Pens had a very hard time generating any offense in the first period. There was no forecheck and no speed, nor composure. The frustration would be evident on the Habs 2nd goal off the stick of former Pens forward Dominic Moore. Gonch failed to clear the puck out and Orpik was too busy pushing Lapierre behind the net while Moore was left wide open for a turn around shot, 2-0 Habs.

Being down 1-0 seemed like the end of the world for the Pens, at least that's what their body language was telling me. They knew scoring the 1st goal in this game would be huge, especially when Halak is the goalie your facing, goals will be very very hard to come by. But the game prolonged and Cammy sniped the 3rd Habs goal on a nice play off another Pens defensive miscue. And the worst play of the night came when Gonch simply let Moen skate around him and score a shorty for a 4-0 lead. I think Fleury should've been pulled after the 3rd goal but it didn't matter at the end.

The Pens would finally get to their game during the 2nd half of the 2nd period. As the referee kicked the puck up to Kunitz and he shot it five hole, 4-1. After an expired PP with under 5 min left, Poni fired a shot from the point and it was deflected by Staal, 4-2 Habs and the building began rocking. Every fan stood up cheering as loud as they possibly could. For good reason too, I mean Staal was the first Pens player to screen Halak since they did it in game 1.

The tables were quickly turning towards the Pens favor as the hitting and forecheck picked up like none other. TK and Cammy got into a scuffle behind the net and that was a trade anyone would take. TK who has 0 goals in 10 playoff games vs. Cammy who leads the playoffs with 13 goals. As the period was winding down Gorges took a penalty and the Pens would have a 4 on 3 PP to begin the 3rd period, can you ask for anything better? The hockey gods were giving the Pens every opportunity to get back into the game.

But some of that momentum seemed to be lost during the intermission. The Pens failed to score on the 4 on 3 and failed to score on a Gill holding penalty. The best PKer for the Habs in the box and still no goal is scored. Both Sid and Geno had glorious chances right in front but they couldn't lift the puck. Anything low is easy pickens for Halak. It shouldn't take 7 games to realize that.

The Habs added a 5th goal by Gionta who looked like a baseball player and the game was over. The Pens outshot the Habs 18-3 in the 3rd and still no goals to show for it. Brent Johnson did a terrific job in relief of Fleury, especially early on he made some huge stops on Cammy and Gomez. But what happened to the Pens this series? Was this game just a fluke or did some similar patterns from previous games continue here?

For one, Fleury was not the same goalie as last year. He had one good game where we won 2-0 and he made some great saves but otherwise he was mediocre at best this series and this playoff season. Where was that big save in a timely moment the past couple games? And most importantly where were the Pens big guns? The Habs big guns: Gionta and Cammy outperformed Geno and Sid by a considerable margin. Cammy had 7 goals while Gionta had 5, Sid and Geno had 1 each. In game 7 Sid and Geno's level of play was even worse than in previous games.

We're used to seeing Sid explode past defenseman and forwards alike, not once did that happen here. And what about our defense, who was our shutdown pair? Orpik/Gonch? You kiddin' me, and its def. not Letang/Eaton. Don't get me started with how bad Gogo/Leopold were either. The likes of Gill/Scuds were clearly missing for the Pens all year long. There was a clear lack of a big d-men clearing space on the PK and shutting down or containing the oppositions top guns.

Gonch's age is finally catching up to him and although he is an outstanding offensive talent, his defense is downright awful. The Moen goal and the Moore goal were just a few examples of it. Sure a lot of pressure should be put on Geno, Sid, and Fleury but what about their wingers? Poni had 3 goals in 27 games and just 2 points in the playoffs. Feds was nowhere and like Poni, saw himself a healthy scratch for a couple games this series. Guerin's age has also caught up to him as his 5 on 5 play was terrible.

The strongest part of the Pens playoff run was their secondary scoring production from guy's like Cooke, Talbot, and Adams. Cooke played above and beyond his expectation and the other two seemed to continue where they left off during last year's Cup run. But other supporting cast members such as TK, had 0 points in 10 games, wow. Staal was decent, but not great. An upset like this shouldn't come as unexpected as it might seem.

The Pens are far and away a better team on paper than the Habs, but the Habs had heart, hunger, and a desire to win which the Pens couldn't match. Sure the Pens wanted to win, but the physical side had finally taken toll on them. They've played 303 games (including the playoffs) the past 3 seasons and roughly 50 playoff games. As we all know playoff hockey is a whole different monster from the reg. season. It's been an incredible run and when you run into a hot goalie and an opportunistic/energetic team, it's never gonna be easy. Remember in the 1st round, the Sens almost took the Pens to 7 games. Without Michalek and Kovy (2 top 6 wingers) and without Kuba , a top 4 defenseman.

If the Pens did prevail past the Habs, Philly/Boston wouldn't be a problem. But whoever wins the Chicago/San Jose series will annihilate anyone coming outta the East and they woulda beat us. So a repeat Cup performance is basically a pipe dream, at least with this group of Pens players. The Pens had another solid season and with the core still in place, the future still looks as bright as ever. But GM Ray Shero will have some major re-tooling to do, especially on the backend. Maybe starting summer off early is the best recipe the doctor could've ordered for these defending Stanley Cup champs, somethin' Ovie can't even say.


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