PITTSBURGH (AP) — Goodbye, Alex Ovechkin. Hello, Sidney Crosby.
In the NHL playoffs, celebrations sometimes don't last much longer than a rookie forward's shift on the ice. The Montreal Canadiens realized that minutes after upsetting Washington 2-1 in Game 7 of their first-round series Wednesday night, when they learned they'd be playing the Penguins less than 48 hours later.
What a reward for upsetting the team that was supposed to win the Stanley Cup: a quick turnaround before playing the team that won the Stanley Cup last season.
The Eastern Conference semifinals must begin Friday night because Point Park University's graduation was previously scheduled for Saturday at Mellon Arena. There's also a short break before Game 2 on Sunday afternoon in a series that will be played every other day.
The Canadiens' reaction? We weren't supposed to win the opening round, we won't be favored to win this round. So drop the puck already.
"No one gave us a chance (against Presidents' Trophy-winning) Washington," goaltender Jaroslav Halak said shortly after the Canadiens pulled off the hockey equivalent of a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 in the NCAA basketball tournament. "We proved them wrong."
Here's the still-to-be-answered question: Did the worst team to make the playoffs show enough to suggest it can beat the Penguins?
The latest Washington playoff failure looked all too familiar. The Capitals often spent too much time trying to create offense around the perimeter. Alexander Semin disappeared. Ovechkin grew increasingly frustrated as Halak stopped 131 of 134 shots over the final three games.
The Penguins — a confident team that's won eight playoff series to Washington's one over the last three seasons — told themselves they can't do the same thing.
"It's nothing we have to sit down in this room and try to figure out, something magical or different," Crosby said Thursday. "Goalies are going to make saves. It's going to happen. But it doesn't mean the same things that make you successful aren't going to be successful. You've got to get traffic, you've got to get rebounds and we've got to be up for the challenge. But we don't have to change anything."
While the Penguins were 1-2 while taking as many as six days off before a Game 1 the last two seasons, they don't expect Montreal's momentum to be a factor. Fatigue could be, with the Canadiens playing a third high-pressure game in five days. The Penguins last played Saturday.
"Give Montreal credit, they were in a desperation mode for three games. That's something we have to make sure we're aware of," Crosby said. "They believe in their team. We've got to make sure we're ready for that kind of desperation right from Game 1."
Especially from defensemen Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, who were so effective in blocking shots and controlling Ovechkin. Last season, the 6-foot-7 Gill teamed with Rob Scuderi, now of the Kings, to be Pittsburgh's shutdown combination, and the Penguins still haven't developed a comparable duo.
"He's a big guy, he's strong, (he's) got a big reach. We're pretty familiar with each other," Crosby said of Gill. "The challenge is there, but that's what happens in the playoffs."
Opposing Crosby every day in practice for several years should help in this series, Gill said. What won't help, Gorges said, is it's not only the Crosby line that must be contained, but the Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal lines, too.
"He (Crosby) practices 100 percent, to a fault. He's crazy that way," Gill said. "It made me a better player and hopefully I can use that against them. But he's got a lot of moves and you've got to be ready for all of them."
Something else that happens in the playoffs: The hot goaltender of today can be the benched goaltender of tomorrow. As well as Halak played in the opening round, Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis wouldn't be surprised to see Montreal return to Carey Price at some point.
"He's had some ups and downs, he's obviously got losses," Dupuis said of Halak, who is 1-1 with seven goals allowed in two games against Pittsburgh. "Let's see if we get to him what kind of goalie rotation they'll get to."
There's also this for the Penguins to consider. In the only other playoff matchup between the two franchises, seventh-seeded Montreal upset second-seeded Pittsburgh 4-2 in 1998.
Crosby, a Hart Trophy finalist, scored four times as the Penguins outscored the Canadiens 15-9 while winning three of four during the season, but the teams haven't met since Feb. 6.
Crosby has 11 goals and 14 assists points in 18 career games against Montreal, which drafted his goaltender father, Troy, in 1984. That same year, the Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux.
Mike Cammalleri, who had five goals and five assists against Washington, has one goal in seven games against Pittsburgh. Scott Gomez has 11 goals and 40 assists in 59 games against the Penguins, and Andrei Markov has six goals and 16 assists in 26 games.
"They're the team to beat," Gill said of the Penguins, 8-2 in playoff series since 2007. "It's going to be a challenge to beat them. You can play well, and it would still be difficult."