MONTREAL -- This postseason, Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak has saved his team on more occasions than it would like to admit.
Monday, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Pittsburgh, Halak’s teammates returned the favor. Specifically, it was Michael Cammalleri that bailed out his goaltender.
Shortly after Halak allowed his weakest goal of the entire playoffs, failing to squeeze a harmless wrister from Kris Letang that dribbled between Halak’s arm and body on the blocker side, Montreal scored a pair of goals 2:30 apart in the second period to take control of the game and lay the foundation for a 4-3 victory that sends this best-of-7 series back to Pittsburgh for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night.
Halak also rebounded from his gaffe against Letang, making 34 saves to allow Cammalleri’s heroics to stand up.
Now, for the second-straight series, Montreal finds itself leaving the Bell Centre to play an improbable Game 7.
In the first round, Montreal erased a three-games-to-one deficit against top-seeded Washington before winning Game 7 at the Verizon Center by a 2-1 margin.
This time, they head to Mellon Arena with designs of springing another monumental upset by denying the defending Stanley Cup champions their third-straight trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Montreal was never supposed to have a chance in this game; not with defenseman Hal Gill -- their secret weapon against Sidney Crosby -- unable to answer the bell.
Gill, who had done the lion’s share of the work in keeping Crosby without a goal in this series, suffered a lacerated leg in Game 5 and, despite skating in the pre-game warm-ups, could not play in this game.
But this never-say-day team has had little use for supposed death sentences.
So they just plugged Jaroslav Spacek -- out for the past 9 games -- into Gill’s spot and went motoring right along.
In fact, the normally offensively challenged Canadiens opened the scoring on this night, just 73 seconds into the game when the unstoppable Cammalleri played a little give-and-go with Tomas Plekanec to gain some separation from Sergei Gonchar on a 2-on-1 before firing a wrister that beat Marc-Andre Fleury high to the glove side.
But a little more than six minutes later, Crosby answered with his first goal of the series, a bat-in of a puck sent airborne when Marc-Andre Bergeron blocked Mark Eaton’s point shot.
Pittsburgh took the lead 5:21 into the second period when Letang, who made the turnover that led to Montreal’s first goal, was granted the gift goal by Halak that made it 2-1.
Suddenly, the Pens were in the driver’s seat. They had the lead against a team that had yet to reach double digits in shots and had less than a handful of scoring chances in the game’s first 25 minutes. Let’s not forget, the Penguins are a team that has closed out its last five playoff series away from home. This is a veteran team that knows how to win on the road.
But no obstacle seems too big to overcome by these Habs, especially with Cammalleri leading the way.
Cammalleri tied the game with 10:45 left in the second period, scoring on a sick backhander that began an almost unheard of three-goal barrage by a team that had just 9 goals in the first six games. That goal was Cammalleri’s NHL-leading 11th of the playoffs and sixth of the series. He had just one playoff goal to his credit in six games before this postseason.
But it was Spacek, out for this whole series and pressed into duty when Gill couldn't go, who authored a magical moment in the already rich playoff history of this team.
Stationed at the top of the zone, he took a patient pass from Scott Gomez and waited a split second himself before firing a low shot through traffic that eluded Fleury.
"It was tough to watch all this hockey -- I would like to be out there with the guys trying to get it done," Spacek said of his time on the sidelines. "But I'm so happy to come back tonight."
Grinder Maxim Lapierre gave the Canadiens some breathing room midway through the third period when a great individual effort got him free of defenseman Alex Goligoski and allowed him to barge out into the slot and power a shot past Fleury, who made 21 saves.
That goal turned out to be the game-winner after Bill Guerin tipped a Gonchar drive past Halak with 1:24 remaining.
But the Canadiens held on and now head to Pittsburgh full of confidence ready to meet their latest date with destiny -- a Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"I think we played great today," Spacek said. "If we play the same way like we played tonight in Pittsburgh, I think we have a chance to have success there."
Shift of the Game: Montreal ended the second period with a 34-second power play and did everything but score on it. Michael Cammalleri, who already had two goals, was denied by a slick save from Marc-Andre Fleury and then fired a shot wide before forcing Fleury to make another save. Finally, Scott Gomez had a look at a wide-open net, but fired high. Although the Canadiens did not score, it sent the message that they were not content with the one-goal lead they were holding at the time. At the horn, the Habs were sent off to a rousing, spine-tingling cheer.
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1 - 0 MTL
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