What to watch for in Game 7
Jaroslav Halak has to play like he's personally insulted by the very existence of Pittsburgh itself for the Montreal Canadiens to have any chance of beating the Penguins in the teams' decisive showdown Wednesday night.
There. Now that we've taken care of the obvious, let's move on to seven other things to watch for in Game 7.
1. We know Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have but a goal apiece in this series, but where are the rest of the Penguins forwards? In fact, for all the time they've spent in the Montreal zone through six games, the Pens have just five even-strength goals in the series (not counting empty-netters or goals scored with an extra attacker). They haven't scored two 5-on-5 goals in one game yet against Montreal. It seems incomprehensible that Crosby and Malkin can go seven games without having one truly dominant performance between them, but if it happens, Pittsburgh better get something besides bodychecks in the offensive zone from its other forwards.
2. Having just said the Pens need more from their forwards (and having had 10 more seconds to contemplate that notion) all five Canadiens skaters are collapsing in the defensive zone like a man who just took a puck in the same spot Sami Salo did a couple nights ago. This has opened up the points and Pittsburgh has some deadly shooters back there, starting with Sergei Gonchar, who has two goals in the series. Kris Letang leads all Pens blueliners with three against Montreal and Alex Goligoski has one, too. If hammering Halak down low isn't working, Pittsburgh should look up to find some open rearguards at the top of the offensive zone.
3. Remember that part about Pittsburgh struggling to score at even strength? If that doesn't tip the Canadiens off to the fact they absolutely, positively can't create extra chances for the Penguins, they're denser than the snow in Montreal on a cold January night. The Habs have no margin for error in this one, but then again they're used to playing under those conditions. That means, under no circumstances can the Canadiens take any penalties on the Pens' side of the red line. Which brings us to ...
4. "The Max Factor." What a wild card Maxim Lapierre has become for Montreal. He has a pair of huge goals in the series, including the final goal in Game 6. That said, he's taking more penalties than he's drawing these days as his act has worn thin with refs and is just basically ignored by opponents. Lapierre can be an effective forechecker on the third line for the Habs and while I acknowledge he's somebody who can have an impact by playing on the edge, he's got to axe the antics for one night at least and concentrate on being first on the puck in the offensive zone and never on the wrong side of it in every other area.
5. Marc-Andre Fleury is finding out what old Hab Ken Dryden already knows; being the goalie on a dominant team can be a tough thing. Much like the previous games, Fleury is unlikely to face much fire in this final contest. However, he can't allow that to create a lapse in concentration. For Fleury, timing will be everything and his ability to make one or two key saves when the Canadiens do get an opening is going to be critical.
6. We talked about the need for Penguins forwards to step up, but man, could Montreal ever use some contributions from guys not named Mike Cammalleri or Brian Gionta, who've combined to score nine of their team's 14 goals against Pittsburgh. Tomas Plekanec hasn't scored in seven playoff games and for a guy about to become an unrestricted free agent, now would be a good time to snap that streak.
7. It's amazing how quickly unbridled enthusiasm can turn to nervous energy. The building will be rocking for what could be the last game at Mellon Arena. If the Pens score a couple early, the demolition of the facility could start with Pittsburgh's puckheads blowing the roof off. But if the Habs can keep it close longer than the home fans think they should, we could all witness how contagious anxiety is.
Montreal won the first NHL game at Mellon (then known as Civic Arena) 2-1 back in 1967. If the score is similar to that tonight, my guess is the Habs have a shot. But if there's a two- or three-goal separation, bank on it being in favor of the defending champs.