PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins did not want to take the chance that Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series against Montreal on Saturday night could be the last NHL contest ever played at Mellon Arena.
So they got back to basics to solve Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak and earn a 2-1 victory – on the strength of goals by defenseman Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar and a 32-save effort by Marc-Andre Fleury -- that once again puts the Canadiens on the brink of elimination, a situation from which they have wiggled free of on three separate occasions.
Letang scored late in the first period on a power play, and Gonchar fired home a blast through traffic midway through the second period. That proved to be the game-winner when Mike Cammalleri slid a rebound through Fleury's pads with 30.8 seconds left.
Mellon Arena, the League's oldest building, will no longer be the home of the Penguins after this postseason run. The team will move into the still-being-built Consol Energy Center across the street when play resumes in the fall.
But Pittsburgh assured there will be at least one more game in their beloved old barn -- Game 7, if necessary, will be here on Wednesday night. However, the Penguins could win this series by taking Game 6 at the Bell Centre on Monday night. Pittsburgh has closed each of its last five series wins on the road. In that case, they would open the Eastern Conference Finals at home.
The Penguins take a 3-2 series lead to Montreal because of brilliant goaltending by Fleury and a determined effort to generate traffic in the Montreal zone.
Fleury was once again dominant -- just 48 hours after having a sub-par game in a 3-2 loss in Game 4. Several times, the Mellon Arena crowd chanted Fleury's name in appreciation of the saves he made, including a beauty on a one-timer of the stick of Marc-Andre Bergeron during a third-period power play.
After losing Thursday's Game 4, the Penguins talked almost incessantly about getting traffic in front of Halak, who was starting to dominate this series in the same manner that he dominated the latter stages of the upset of Washington in the last round.
On Thursday, Pittsburgh scored twice in the game's first five minutes, but then Halak closed the door, stopping 32 straight shots as his team mounted a furious third-period comeback to take a 3-2 victory. But Halak was rarely screened during the course of those 33 saves.
That was not the case on this Saturday night as Halak was pestered while making most of his 23 saves.
The return of Bill Guerin and Mike Rupp to the lineup for Game 5 gave Pittsburgh a ferocity around the net that was missing for most of the two-game stay in Montreal. Guerin missed both games with an undisclosed injury, while Rupp missed Game 4.
On this night, Pittsburgh opened the scoring on the power play with 1:42 left in the first period when Kris Letang blasted a slap shot from the left point past Halak. The goaltender was screened by Guerin and Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who was trying to move Guerin from Halak's line of vision.
Pittsburgh had scored on just two of its past 11 power plays, but this advantage featured the movement of players and puck that Bylsma was preaching during Saturday's morning skate. Malkin and Gonchar got the assists as the moved the puck quickly around the Montreal box and onto the stick of Letang.
Pittsburgh now has seven power-play goals in this series.
In the second period, Gonchar extended Pittsburgh's lead to 2-0 with another long-range shot that was at least partially obscured. Malkin, in the midst of three-straight dominating shifts in the offensive zone, held onto the puck for an interminable amount of time before dishing to Mark Letestu, who moved the puck to Brooks Orpik at the blue line. Orpik dished to Gonchar at the opposite point and the Russian let a shot rip.
No surprise, there was traffic all around Halak as the puck found the back of the net at 9:50 of the second. This time, it was Rupp, who was drawing the attention of both forward Tomas Plekanec and defenseman Josh Gorges in the low slot.