Canadians forward Brian Gionta scores his team's fifth goal beating Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson in the third period of Wednesday's game at Mellon Arena.
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Don't feel too badly that there won't be any more hockey games at Mellon Arena, this season or ever. The old building has to prefer it that way. Better to be put out of its misery than to have to endure more of what it lived through Wednesday night.
Quite simply, it was some of the worst big-game hockey in Penguins history.
Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that so many of us laughed at Washington's Alex Ovechkin and accused him of gagging against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs? The Not-So-Great 8 could do nothing to prevent his Capitals -- the NHL's President's Trophy-winning team -- from losing Game 7 at home.
Well guess what?
That was Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Marc-Andre Fleury who hair-balled it against the Canadiens on this night. They not only did nothing to help the Penguins win Game 7 of the second-round series. They sabotaged their chances, putting a premature end not just to the arena, but to their defense of their Stanley Cup.
Who saw this coming? This lopsided 5-2 loss? This lame performance by the Penguins' biggest stars? Just a year after they had played so brilliantly in carrying the franchise all the way to the Cup?
It's one thing to lose a game against a determined, opportunistic team with a hot goaltender. It's another thing to be completely embarrassed in your house.
Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar and Fleury were embarrassed.
I swear, it was hard to even recognize those guys against the Canadiens.
I wrote the other day that I was betting on Crosby in Game 7. Good thing I didn't do it in the literal sense. I would be broke. As it is, I'm merely embarrassed for being so wrong. If Crosby were a racehorse, he would have finished well up the track.
Crosby didn't get so much as a point, the sixth game in the series he didn't score a goal. Even worse, he took a dumb penalty just 10 seconds into the game, taking a run at Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges, with whom he had exchanged words at the end of the Canadiens' 4-3 win in Game 6. Maybe the boarding call against him was a bit weak. "I was stunned. I don't know how that's a penalty," Crosby said. But there was nothing cheap about Brian Gionta's power-play goal on a deflection just 22 seconds later to give Montreal a 1-0 lead.
The Penguins never recovered.
It was 4-0 before they knew what hit them.
I can't confirm this, but the rumor was that the tired, old building put in a call for Dr. Kevorkian.
"I don't know why we started the way we did," Crosby said. "It wasn't a lack of effort. It happens. Everything doesn't always work out perfectly or the way you want it to."
There was no real chance that the Penguins would come back, not against Montreal's sensational goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, not getting so little from Crosby and Malkin, who also didn't have a point Wednesday night and, like Crosby, finished the series with one goal. His best chance came early in the third period when Halak robbed him on the power play with the Penguins trailing, 4-2. Somehow, that great save seemed appropriate. Halak was that much better than Malkin the whole ride.
By the way, the Penguins' power play -- with all of its wondrous talent -- went 0 for 6 and gave up a short-handed goal in the biggest game of the season. Didn't we also laugh at Ovechkin and the Capitals for going 1 for 33 on the power play against the Canadiens?
I don't have to tell you whom they're laughing at now.
Some of the blame for the Penguins' struggles on the power play has to go on Gonchar. He's the quarterback, right? But his most egregious blunder came when he allowed the Canadiens' Travis Moen to skate right by him early in the second period to score Montreal's fourth goal short-handed. Like Crosby, he finished as a minus-2.
This is a guy who was playing for a big, new contract?
It's hard to imagine Gonchar getting it with the Penguins.
Then, there was Fleury.
Moen's goal sent him to the bench, replaced by backup Brent Johnson. It's hard to argue with coach Dan Bylsma's decision. Fleury didn't have it on this night after playing so wonderfully in Game 7s against the Capitals and the Detroit Red Wings last season. The Canadiens scored on four of 13 shots against him, forcing him to watch the rest of the game from the runway leading to the dressing room.
Fleury returned to the Mellon Arena ice one final time for the traditional post-series handshakes. Then, with Crosby leading the way, he and his teammates saluted the home fans by holding their sticks skyward.
It was a nice gesture by a team that has provided so much joy in the old arena -- may it rest in peace -- over the years.
Sadly, though, it was the only thing Crosby, Malkin and the others did right all night.
. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.