PITTSBURGH -- Halak did not happen Friday night for the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena.
Goalie Jaroslav Halak, canonized after stopping 131 of 134 shots in the last three games as Montreal fought its way past top-seeded Washington with three-straight elimination wins, was merely mortal on this night as Pittsburgh used its depth and wiles to record a convincing 5-3 victory to take Game 1 of the best-of-7 series.
Game 2 is Sunday afternoon here at Mellon Arena.
Halak stopped just 15 of 20 shots he faced on this night as Pittsburgh shredded Montreal's vaunted penalty kill, which had allowed only one goal in 33 opportunities by Washington in the last round. Halak was pulled with more than 14 minutes left in the third period to complete a stunning fall from grace in a 48-hour period.
Pittsburgh defenseman scored three of the Penguins' four power-play goals -- on only four attempts -- as Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski all beat Halak. Jordan Staal scored the other power-play goal before leaving with an undisclosed injury midway through the second period.
The Penguins used quick puck movement, a willingness to get to the net and frequent changes of the point of attack to flummox Montreal's shot-blocking defense and force Halak to face far more quality scoring chances that Washington generated in the latter part of its series against Montreal.
Not only did Halak look anything but super, but Montreal may have also lost its best all-around defenseman in the first period when Matt Cooke caught Andrei Markov with a solid hit in the corner of Markov's defensive zone. The Russian defender immediately fell to the ice, writhing in pain as play went in the other direction.
Markov was helped off the ice by a trainer and never really put much pressure on his right leg as he left the Mellon Arena ice. He was ruled out of the game with a lower-body injury and his status for Game 2 is up in the air. Markov is the team's most reliable defenseman, averaging a team-high 26:26 in the first-round series against Washington. He is a key to both the Canadiens' power play and penalty kill, which was magnificent in killing 32 of 33 man-down situations in the first round.
The Habs were angered to see one of their best players lying prone on the ice and Scott Gomez went after Cooke at center ice before whistle ended the play. Gomez took an extra roughing penalty in the ensuing fracas to put Montreal shorthanded. It didn't take long for Pittsburgh to make Montreal pay for the indiscretion as the Pens scored their second power-play goal of the night to take a 2-1 lead.
Staal used the sliding block attempt by Brian Gionta to partially screen Halak and beat him high to the glove side at 13:27 of the opening period.
Pittsburgh added another power-play tally 2:34 into the second period to take a 3-1 lead. Letang beat Halak with a wrister from the high slot after Crosby created a turnover with some puck-hounding in the offensive zone.
Pittsburgh received an injury scare of its own in the second period when Staal, the Penguins' third-line center and primary penalty killer, appeared to injure his right leg midway through the second period after falling awkwardly after clipping skates with P.K. Subban while trying to break up a pass at the defensive blue line while killing a hooking penalty to Max Talbot.
Staal left for the dressing room at the next whistle and was limping noticeably. He did not return to the game.
Montreal put an early scare into the Penguins by striking first and suggesting they were still riding the magic carpet of opportunism and momentum that carried it past the top-seeded Caps In the last round.
Subban, a rookie defenseman, scored just 4:30 into the game when his seeing-eye floater from the right point ticked off the skate of defenseman Mark Eaton and surprised Marc-Andre Fleury, who was screened as Staal wrestled with Tomas Plekanec for position in the slot.
Fleury was not tested often and was good when he had to be, including a nifty save on Gomez during the Talbot penalty in the second period.
More importantly, Pittsburgh was not rattled when Subban silenced the crowd and ripped off three power-play goals to instead put the Canadiens on their heels.
But after allowing the three power-play goals and losing its best defenseman, Montreal refused to go away, either. Mike Cammalleri scored a pretty one-timer from the slot after a sweet pass by Gomez to make it 3-2. Cammalleri leads the Canadiens with 11 points this postseason and has scored in seven of Montreal's eight playoff games.
But Pittsburgh's Craig Adams, playing third-line minutes because of the absence of Staal, scored a huge goal with just 84 seconds left in the second period, going back door to slam home a superb cross-slot pass from Pascal Dupuis to make it 4-2.
Adams, who has not scored in 91 regular-season games with the Penguins, scored his second of this postseason with that goal and has 5 postseason goals in 31 postseason contests with the Pens.
After, Goligoski made it 5-2 with his power-play goal, Montreal's Brian Gionta cut the lead to two goals again as he scored a power-play goal by lasering a power-play slapper past Fleury at 12:29 of the third. Bill Guerin's empty-netter locked up the win.
Shift of the Game: Pittsburgh clearly wanted to punish the Montreal defense as it tracked back to get the Penguins' dump-ins. Nobody did that better Friday night in Game 1 than Matt Cooke. With a little more than 11 minutes gone in the first, Cooke came in hard on the forecheck and lined up Andrei Markov in the corner with a punishing check as he released an outlet pass up the ice. Markov crashed into the boards awkwardly, suffering a leg injury, and did not return in the game, leaving Montreal's vaunted PK unit in disarray.