Penguins notebook: Gill looms large in Canadiens' defense
Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill, right, defends Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin during Game 6 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at the Bell Centre, Monday.
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Hal Gill, all 6 feet 7 of him, was admired as a shutdown defenseman with the Penguins in their run to the Stanley Cup final two years ago and the championship last year.
Now he will be on the other side, a member of a Montreal defensive corps that smothered top-seeded Washington in the first round of the playoffs to advance to a second-round matchup with the Penguins. He had 31 of the Canadiens' 182 blocked shots.
"He played well," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said Thursday. "But as of right now he's a member of the Canadiens. He's an enemy now.
"We could cheer him on in the first round and appreciate what he did, but now it's another guys that we're trying to get after."
Gill was asked how he might be received upon returning to Mellon Arena.
"Um, I don't know," he said. "I think they're a blue-collar city. It's a great city in that respect. They always appreciated what I had to offer. I appreciated them for that.
"Hopefully, they're not too hard on me."
The Penguins had a full contingent at practice at Southpointe, with wingers Tyler Kennedy (leg) and Chris Kunitz (undisclosed injury) returning and defenseman Jordan Leopold (head) in a no-contact jersey for the second day in a row.
Kunitz skated in his usual spot on the top line with center Sidney Crosby and right winger Bill Guerin. Kennedy, though, centered a fifth line. Both are day to day, coach Dan Bylsma said.
Leopold, leveled and knocked unconscious by Ottawa defenseman Andy Sutton in Game 2 of the opening round, joked about his recovery status.
"I can't subtract," he said, then laughed. "No. I haven't been able to do that anyway.
"I'm not really having any problems mentally. It's just a matter of progressing physically and getting back to game form."
The Penguins have not played since Saturday when they wrapped up their series against the Senators. Montreal came directly to Pittsburgh from Washington after ousting the Capitals Wednesday night.
There are varying theories on who might be rested and who might be on an emotional high.
"We know this is a big challenge, but we're here to compete and we know it's going to be a tremendous series," said Canadiens coach Jacques Martin, who canceled practice but held a team meeting Thursday night.
Gill took a lighter approach.
"Yeah, it's not fair," he said, then grinned.
"We had a big emotional win. We had a big day to rest up. Hopefully, we catch them a little rusty."
The Canadiens' reward for slipping into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season was to draw the top team in the NHL, Washington, followed by the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
"It's like, congratulations!" said Montreal center Dominic Moore, a former Penguin.
"We knew Washington was going to be as tough as could be, and we're well aware that this is a huge uphill battle for us. At the same time, we're the kind of team that's looking forward to it."
Asked to compare star offensive players Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals and Crosby of the Penguins, Moore found just a few similarities.
"Very different," he said. "Ovechkin, the way he plays, it looks like he's got one goal in mind at all times, and that's to get the puck on net.
"Obviously, Sid is ultra-competitive as well. They both share that. He's also a playmaker. He's always aware of when to make a pass and who's open.
"It's a bit of a different dimension in that regard."
Martin said defenseman Jaroslav Spacek remains day to day. He has missed the past four games because of an undisclosed illness. ... The Penguins and the city are urging patience in light of potential traffic jams Sunday because of the afternoon start for Game 2, the Pittsburgh Marathon, a scheduled protest downtown and Pitt's commencement in Oakland. ... The Penguins plan to continue their promotions for the second round, including whiteouts and games shown on the big screen outside of Gate 3 at Mellon Arena.
First Published April 30, 2010 12:00 am