All academic if Penguins can avoid playing a Game 7
Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on the Canadiens' Maxim Lapierre in the first period of Game 5 Saturday at Mellon Arena.
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MONTREAL -- There is a Harvard graduate on this team.
A guy who went to Notre Dame, too. And one who attended Boston College, along with several others who pursued advanced degrees before entering the NHL.
But a post-secondary education isn't needed to grasp the basic mathematics that will be at work when the Penguins face Montreal in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series at 7:15 p.m. today at the Bell Centre.
The bottom line to that equation: This is not a must-win game for the Penguins.
Not in any hard-numbers sense, anyway. Can't be. Not when they hold a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series.
Twist the figures any way you like, and Montreal can't lock up a spot in the Eastern Conference final tonight, no matter what. The Penguins, with a victory, can.
If the Canadiens defeat them tonight, the Penguins have the safety net of a Game 7 Wednesday at Mellon Arena. Sure, their history when playing those on home ice is pretty grim, but having a deciding game in your own building is one of the major plusses of earning home-ice advantage.
Game: Penguins at Montreal Canadiens, 7:15 p.m. today, Bell Centre.
Series: Penguins, 3-2.
TV, Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jaroslav Halak for Canadiens.
Penguins: Are 8-5 in past 13 potential series-clinching games. ... C Evgeni Malkin ranks second in NHL with 48 shots. ... Have gotten seven game-winning goals from seven players.
Canadiens: Will be trying to win consecutive home games for first time this spring. ... C Scott Gomez has lost 125 faceoffs, second most of anyone in the playoffs. ... Are 4-2 in games decided by a goal.
Hidden stat: Canadiens have outshot opponents in three games in the playoffs and lost all three.
Nonetheless, the Penguins insist they plan to approach Game 6 with genuine desperation, an urgency that belies the margin for error provided by a 2-1 victory in Game 5 Saturday at Mellon Arena.
"I'd like to treat it like it's the end of the world," left winger Mike Rupp said. "You can look at it that their backs are up against the wall -- which they are -- but I like to look at it from the standpoint that it is for us, too.
"We don't want to go to a one-game series against these guys. They're a good team, and they're playing really well against us."
Well enough that the Canadiens have outscored the Penguins, 7-6, at even-strength through five games. With that in mind, the Penguins shouldn't have to work too hard to sell themselves on the merits of avoiding a seventh game.
"We want to go in with a do-or-die mindset, for sure," left winger Matt Cooke said.
The Canadiens almost certainly will, because they have shown admirable resilience and commitment all spring. They did, after all, trail top-seeded Washington, 3-1, after four games during Round 1 before running off three consecutive victories, two on the road.
Montreal's success is built on a foundation of good goaltending and stingy team defense, and while the Canadiens' offense isn't especially imposing, they can make the smallest advantage look awfully large.
It's no statistical quirk that Montreal is 5-2 when scoring the first goal of the game, but 2-4 when allowing it. Let them get in front, and the Canadiens methodically grind down the clock and their opponents' patience.
"They tighten up, play pretty solid," Cooke said. "They're content to play in their own end."
The Canadiens proved in Game 5 that they're not necessarily uncomfortable in a more up-tempo game. After a slow start, Montreal become much more aggressive offensively than it had been the first four games and launched a series-high 33 shots at goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
"They got a lot of shots," Rupp said. "I thought they did a good job of establishing their offense. In some of the other games, they relied heavily on their defense. [Saturday], it was a good mix of both for them."
That's pretty much what Penguins coach Dan Bylsma will be looking for from his team in Game 6. Whether that would produce a victory is conjecture, but forward Craig Adams, who owns a Harvard degree, believes the Penguins should focus on efficient execution and take their chances with what shows up on the scoreboard.
"We've got to focus on the process and not necessarily the outcome, just focus on playing our game," he said. "The better we do that, the better [the chance] we give ourselves to finish it off."
Beating the Canadiens will mean contending with a hostile and vocal crowd, as well as a club whose instinct for professional survival should kick in well before the opening faceoff.
"It's going to be the hardest game of the year," Rupp said. "We have to look at it that way."
But there's another way to look at Game 6: It is one that, if the Penguins can win it, will spare them the stress of having 2009-10 distilled to a best-of-60-minutes. They saw how an unlucky carom off defenseman Kris Letang might have cost them a victory in Game 4, and realize that if something similar would happen in a Game 7, it could sour the entire season.
"I think we know what's at stake," Fleury said. "You come back and play one game and there could be a bounce ... anything could happen."
First Published May 10, 2010 12:00 am