Stanley Cup playoffs: Penguins want traffic in front of Canadiens' Halak


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The one area the Penguins most want to venture into in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals is the same one the Montreal Canadiens will defend most fiercely -- the front of the net occupied by goalie Jaroslav Halak.

"There's no secret to our game," said center Max Talbot. "It's nice to take shots from the exterior, but we need to go into the 'dirty' areas and try to create a little bit more."

Getting more traffic in front of the net creates screens and deflections, and it also sets up secondary goal-scoring opportunities on rebounds. But it also draws more attention from defensemen who will use checks, sticks, elbows and anything else to keep the area clear. There's not much fancy about goals scored from close range. Hence the term "dirty" area.


Today

Game: Penguins at Montreal Canadiens, 7:08 p.m. today, Bell Centre.

Series: Tied, 1-1.

TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jaroslav Halak for Canadiens.

Penguins: Won all three away games in Round 1. ... C Sidney Crosby has been shut out in two of past three games after getting 14 points in previous five. ... Have been outshot just twice in eight postseason games.

Canadiens: Are 1-2 at home in playoffs. ... LW Mike Cammalleri has seven goals in past six games. ... Have scored one power-play goal in eight of their nine playoff games.

Hidden stat: Penguins have given up the first goal in three of past four games.


As one who makes a living camped out in front of an opponent's goal, Bill Guerin agrees with the formula. But he also knows that there is a price to be paid for such a strategy.

"It's more of a mindset for us," Guerin said as the series, tied at 1-1, moves to the Bell Centre for tonight's game.

"They do an excellent job in front of their net. They play great as a unit in their end, and they all have good sticks. Their sticks are constantly on the ice in the passing lanes and shooting lanes. We're going to have to make a conscious effort to shoot more pucks and create more traffic."

The first two games of the series have been a study in contrasting styles. The Penguins, who want to spend as much time in the offensive zone to keep the pressure on the Canadiens, chased Halak in winning the series opener.

But Halak, who showed he could stand up to superstar scorers in beating the Capitals in the opening round of the playoffs, stopped 38 of 39 shots Sunday to square the series and give Montreal home-ice advantage.

From his perspective, coach Dan Bylsma thought the Canadiens did a better job at sweeping the play to the outside or pushing it back toward the blue line.

"At times, we were all guilty of playing on the outside. We need to all make a conscious effort of getting into that net front area and having that presence there," he said. "We have to go there if we're going to be successful against this goaltender."

But that means being more physical.

"A little bit of it is mindset," Bylsma said. "We have to do a better job of getting into that area in front of the net, and that's a tough proposition against some of their defensemen. You have to fight from the corners. But we can do and need to do a better job of getting into that area. We have shooting lanes. We've got to change and adjust."

It's no secret what the Canadiens are doing either. They are collapsing around the net and sacrificing their bodies to block shots, and the ones that got through Sunday were being smothered by Halak.

On the other hand, Montreal's offense can't be ignored either.

"They have some dangerous skill players that have been a factor in each of the games," Bylsma said.

The Canadiens' defensive style can stymie even the best of scorers, and Sidney Crosby showed flashes of frustration during Sunday's game. Which means he's bound to see more blanket coverage, and perhaps more facial stitches to go with his playoff whiskers, the rest of the series.

"He felt like we could do more, that there was more to be done out there," Bylsma said. "Sometimes, the frustration is evident. That was maybe what we saw. It's playoff hockey. You have to play through those situations."

It's more about fine tuning their approach rather than making a major overhaul.

"We have to make sure we're hungry around the net," Crosby said.

But the Penguins also want to finish their checks.

"As [Sunday's] game went on, I thought we got less physical on their defense," Bylsma said. "We have to get to our game better, play in the offensive zone more, take advantage of our power plays when we get them and stay the course on how we need to play."

So whose style will prevail in Game 3?

"The great thing about the playoffs, it is always about your next game," Bylsma said. "We did not give them a lot, but we think we can play better."


Robert Dvorchak: bdvorchak@post-gazette.com .


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