Collier: Canadiens' Price tough egg to crack

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Historical milestones were piled on both sides of Saturday's hockey game, so it was something of an icy little oddity that 18,310 citizens left the building feeling as though very little was accomplished.

Unless you count spending the 200th consecutive Penguins sellout booing Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, still clearly unforgiven for the Jordan Staal injury that marred last year's playoffs and much of the remainder of 2010.

Staal is back, of course, and it's a new year, but even if you thought there was no way last year's Penguins should have lost to Montreal in the playoffs, you should not need any persuading this time around.

"They were the Stanley Cup champions a year ago so we have a lot of respect for the way they play," said Canadiens' forward Michael Cammalleri. "They just seem to bring out your best."

Cammalleri had a goal and an assist in a 3-0 skunking Saturday of the Penguins, so make it four goals and four assists he has accumulated in his last 10 games against the Penguins, then add that to the seven goals he scored in last spring's Eastern Conference semifinals, and you might be looking at a trend.

The win bumped the Canadiens right up against Tampa Bay's taillights for the fifth seed in the postseason tournament that likely begins a month from tonight, the fifth seed being exactly what could see them return to Pittsburgh for some very serious hockey.

That possibility doesn't look for the moment like something these Penguins should embrace, especially the way Montreal goalie Carey Price is playing. The Canadiens stunned a lot of people last June when they traded Jaroslav Halak, the Savin' Slovak, who back-stopped them all the way to the conference finals.

Maybe they knew something.

Price stopped all 26 Pittsburgh shots Saturday and is the clear No. 1 reason Montreal has won seven of its past nine.

"Our guys were just awesome today," Price, 23, said. "Credit the players in front of me and our commitment to defense. That was an Exhibit A road game. We played exactly the way we planned to play."

Nobody plans to play the way Dan Bylsma's team did in this episode, giving the puck away like it was Puck Day, giving up goals in the first minute of periods one and two, then allowing a one-timer by Cammalleri on a pretty centering pass from Jeff Halpern that chased Marc-Andre Fleury to the bench in favor of Brent Johnson.

Bylsma thought the Canadiens weren't compelled to work hard enough for that 3-0 lead after just 12 shots, but he didn't seem a bit disappointed with the Alex Kovalev line, or with Kovie himself, despite his one goal and no assists in seven games since that trade that brought him.

"On the power play we haven't gotten the right fit yet, but we missed a couple of good chances," Bylsma said after the power play faded to 1-for-its-last-31. "I think there's been decent chemistry between [Mark] Letestu and [James] Neal, and Kovie had a good shot at one point. Neal had a good shot and Neal had a second one. I thought they were our best line tonight. They haven't gotten everything together but that's a group that will stay together for awhile."

For the moment, this entire Penguins team looks as though it will stay together for awhile, as there is still no word on the availability of Sidney Crosby. Saturday was the 66th day without him, one of the days when they looked very much the worse for that, and no match, frankly, for the time-tested Canadiens brand.

Montreal's second goal, as it happens, was another milestone -- the 11,000th in the history of a franchise that dates to 1917. Travis Moen got it, and I'm sure he is aware that it came on the 40th anniversary of The Egging of Gump Worsley.

The legendary Canadiens goalie, working against the New York Rangers March 12, 1967, was forced to leave the game when an egg thrown from the stands resulted in a head injury. Presumably a hard-boiled egg.

The final milestone Saturday was Price's victory, his 93rd, which moved him into 12th place in team history ahead of -- who else? -- Gump Worsley.

"Really, I didn't know that!" Price said. "Cool!"

For the first time in a long time, the Penguins rolled into Saturday's third period with no palpable chance. It wasn't so much that they're now 0-17-1 when they trail after two periods. It was more that they are just not fully equipped to beat Price when he has a three-goal lead and just 20 minutes to seal it.

For that you need No. 87. And No. 71. Or, in lieu of one or both, No. 66.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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