In a best-of-5 series, there’s little margin for error.
Dropping Game 1 eliminated that margin completely, effectively turning Game 2 into a must-win.
And that’s exactly what the Penguins showed up to do last night: win.
Whatever your definition of “stealing a game” is, you could make the case that Matt Murray either did that or came as close to hitting your definition as humanly possible, out-dueling Carey Price to secure the win for the Pens.
Price didn’t make it easy on him as the Montreal netminder added to his stinginess in net, saving 1.98 goals above expectation (via Evolving-Hockey.com). Murray was up to the task and was huge when he was called to action, particularly when it mattered most: the third period.
It was the exact response that you want from an under-fire team to turn this series into a best of 3.
There was chatter about potentially seeing someone like Sam Lafferty or Evan Rodrigues coming in for Patrick Marleau on the 3rd line that was pretty lifeless in Game 1 to go with the unending chatter surrounding the Penguins 3rd D pairing and starting goalie, but Matt Murray did nothing to lose the job and HCMS decided to roll out the same roll with the same lineup, going up against the exact same lineup Claude Julien’s Canadiens iced in the OT victory.
Longwinded way of saying “no changes to either lineup.”
The opening 4+ minutes of this game were a stark difference from that of Game 1: choppy and end-to-end. You could tell from the get go that the ice was going to be a problem.
Passes weren’t clean, the puck was stopping up on guys forcing them to overskate it, etc. etc.
PIT – 4:25 – Crosby; A: Guentzel – 1-0
It was even more evident just prior to the Pens opening the scoring as John Marino of all people had trouble getting the puck under control. But Crosby managed to, settled it all down and found Guentzel with a cross-ice outlet feed to get the Pens out of their zone and up ice.
Vintage Crosby here, too, as he was the first one up ice getting involved and giving Jake a passing option, taking the feed and walking right in on Price to open the scoring, giving Ryan Miller nightmares even during his offseason.
Pens would get their first PP about 2.5 minutes later after Montreal got caught with too many men. Hornqvist got put back on the top unit with Crosby, Guentzel, Malkin, and Letang and almost immediately, the powerplay looked more menacing with that reckless maniac crying havoc and letting slip the hogs of war.
They didn’t score, but probably did enough to score in registering 5 shots on goal.
Then, with 8:37 left, the Pens would have to go on the penalty kill for the first time after Pettersson got caught hooking up Drouin. It went nowhere for the first 1:12 of it until Joel Armia got rung up for holding Jack Johnson in the corner. That 4v4 lasted exactly 33 seconds before Dumoulin went to the box also for holding, immediately preceding a very natural and normal play.
When the smoke cleared, Montreal ended up with 33 seconds of a 5v4 and with 14 seconds left in that, the Habs picked up another too many men penalty.
We just love 5-on-5 hockey, don’t we folks.
Anyway the Penguins didn’t do anything with the ensuing powerplay.
Through the first 20, the Pens doubled up the Habs in shots at 14-7.
In the 12:29 of 5v5 play, shot attempts were 9-9 (7-5 in favor of the Pens in unblocked attempts), 4-3 in shots on goal, 6-3 in scoring chances, and 2-1 in high danger chances all in favor of the Pens.
The start of the 2nd 20 was more or less all Montreal with Matt Murray keeping them keeping them at bay long enough for Bryan Rust to sit in the box for roughing 5:33 into the middle frame.
No harm no foul as the Pens were just automatic on the kill.
After 2 minutes of that wretched 5-on-5 hockey that we definitely do not like, Joel Armia gave us another reprieve by hooking up John Marino to give the Penguins their third powerplay of the night.
Once again, the Penguins didn’t score, but they sure as hell did enough to do so, particularly because of Patric Hornqvist’s speed metal shit-stirring.
Entirely unsure how someone hasn’t taken their skate off and tried to stab him yet. Absolute shithousery here.
After this powerplay, we actually got less than 2 minutes of 5v5 play before Joel Armia took another penalty, this time against Justin Schultz. Malkin and Weber got matching roughing minors after the play because Armia and Zucker got into it. With 26 seconds left in the powerplay, which wasn’t anything to write home or blog about, Paul Byron slashed Rust’s stick.
Pens took their timeout to draw something up for the 5v3 and get the guys a rest and presumably inject more speed metal into Hornqvist’s veins. But aside from Letang going super saiyan after fanning on a shot on the 5v3 to set up Hornqvist, the Pens would go to 0-for-5 on the PP.
We wouldn’t get much else for the last 2:59 of 5v5 play aside from a shift in the final 30 seconds from the Zucker-Malkin-Rust line so dominant that it’d get its own category on RedTube.
The 12:26 of 5v5 play this time around was more controlled by the Penguins than the first go, largely because of the showing at the end of the period. They’d end up with a 19-8 edge in shot attempts, 13-7 in unblocked attempts, 8-6 in shots on goal, 11-4 in scoring chances and 4-2 in high danger chances. They also generated 0.87 expected goals at 5v5 and 2.62 in all situations.
Right at the start of the period, the Pens had a massive, massive breakdown in coverage to give the Habs a 2-on-1 from basically the red line in on Letang. Letang did as much as he could to match Kulak’s driving speed and delay long enough that Tatar was a little too close to Murray to be accurate, but the read and push off from Murr was still necessary. Huge save to preserve the lead and set the tone for third.
Montreal kept up the pressure for the next 6 minutes before yet another one of those shifts from the Malkin line to eat up some time.
And that’s exactly what the Penguins continued to do- eat up time and survive. Marleau hit the post with about 6 and a half to play and then….
PIT – 14:41 – Zucker; A: Sheary, Dumoulin – 2-0
All about that play in the D-zone, baby. Sheary makes the initial play along the boards to latch onto the puck and cooly move it down low to Malkin.
Malkin didn’t dick around with the pressure around him, quickly moving it to Dumoulin in the circle and trapping the 3 Habs forwards in deep. Dumo channeled his inner [insert your favorite footballer here, for me it’s Marcus Rashford], giving a little flick up to Sheary to do the rest.
Big time play by Sheary here to beat the defensemen to the puck, tip it by him and break in on a 2v1 with Zucker, putting it on such a platter that even pre-twist Four Leaf Tayback could’ve scored.
But you just knew the Habs weren’t going away.
MTL – 17:50 – Kotkaniemi; A: Lehkonen, Petry – 2-1
And away they did not go, catching the Pens spread out a bit more than you’d like to see in the D-zone with Petry working it down the wall to Lehkonen.
Really like the play from Letang here as Lehkonen recognized how much space he had in the zone and going for a stroll. Letang steps quickly and forces Lehkonen up near the blue line, where he had support from the forwards. As soon as he’s comfortable with those guys handling Lehkonen, which they probably should have, he drops back to the front of the net to protect Murray.
No one steps to Lehkonen, though, after Letang passes him off, allowing him to walk to the top of the far circle from where he started and to throw a shot towards the net.
Not sure if it’s Kotkaniemi or Dumoulin who gets a piece of the shot, but it changed directions on Murray at the hash marks, who you have to say did a solid job of tracking it and kicking it out.
But it was Kotkaniemi spinning Dumoulin and getting to the rebound, beating Murr from a sharp angle as he tried to recover to break the shutout bid.
Really tough break for Murr here. Just so hard to swallow a rebound that’s tipped about 10 feet in front of you.
Then, it was all about surviving for the last 2+ minutes and begging for that empty netter to cover the spread.
PIT – ENG – 19:50 – Guentzel; A: Rust – 3-1
Pens got hit with a couple of icings, but after the final one, a Blueger faceoff win and a Rust steal put it in the right area for Guentzel to break free and bury the gimme goal and close it out.
- Can’t say it enough, but Matt Murray was brilliant in his 26 save performance (.964 SV%). Really felt like one of those games from 2016/2017 from him. His movement was smooth, his rebounds were controlled (Montreal credited with just 3 rebounds created), and he just looked dialed in. The Penguins helped him out by allowed just 8 total high danger shots and 8 total HD scoring chances in all situations, but you have to make the saves to get the cheddar.
- Kris Letang woke up yesterday ready to beast. With him on the ice, the Penguins out-attempted the Habs 20-8 (71.43%). They controlled 66.67% of the unblocked attempts (16-8), 64.71% of the shots on goal (11-6), 65.53% of the expected goals, generated 14 scoring chances while allowing just 5 (73.68%), with a 5-2 edge in the high danger chances at 5v5. When you consider how much the Habs poured in on in the 3rd, it makes his body of work last night even more impressive.
- So the powerplay didn’t burn the Penguins in this one, but let’s talk about it after an 0/5 effort. It’s extremely obvious that something has to change with it, but the answer as to what that is remains difficult to answer. Hornqvist made a noticeable different in this game just by being a total shithead in front of Price. But one thing that’s glaringly missing is a right hand shot in Kessel’s old spot. Rust got some time there during the injury spells and had some success, but putting Rust there with Hornqvist, Malkin, Crosby, and Letang means taking the best goalscorer off the top unit in Guentzel. Rust also is sort of one-dimensional there- his shot is great, but he’s not the creative, dangerous passer that can feed a puck through a mess of bodies to the far post. So when he gets the puck, it’s either going back to the point, behind the net to Crosby, or shot on goal. Predictable, right? Not sure what the answer is, but either way, Hornqvist was a welcome addition.
- Speaking of Hornqvist, the 3rd line was a lot better this time around. Marleau was much more visible in a good way, though you could make the case that Jared McCann is still trying to find his legs. But in the 6:25 of 5v5 play they had together, they controlled the shot attempts 5-2, 2-0 in shots on goal, and generated 4 scoring chances (allowing 0). Baby steps, but steps in the right direction for those 3.
The BUZZWORD: PIVOTAL Game 3 is Wednesday night. Pens have a change to grab this series by the scruff of its neck to potentially clinch on Crosby’s birthday. Another 8 PM start.
All data via Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted.