Playoff loss to Canadiens still festers for Penguins
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It was nearly five months ago, but for the Penguins the 5-2 loss to Montreal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on home ice -- the final game at Mellon/Civic Arena -- is a little like a wound that won't completely heal.
With apologies to Jordan Staal's right foot, of course.
It was in that series that Staal came back to play for the Penguins after missing just two games following surgery to repair a lacerated tendon on the top of his foot caused by a collision with Montreal rookie defenseman P.K. Subban. That injury has healed, but Staal remains out because of a stubborn infection.
For the team, the ouster from the playoffs one season after winning the Stanley Cup has found its place where it belongs, in history. And yet ...
Game: Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9), www.penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Carey Price for Canadiens.
Penguins: Coming off of 3-2 loss to Philadelphia in season opener. ... C Sidney Crosby won 62 percent of his faceoffs (18 of 29) in opener. ... Fleury was 3-1 with 2.12 GAA vs. Montreal last season.
Canadiens: Coming off of 3-2 loss at Toronto in season opener. ... Price was 0-2 with 3.46 GAA vs. Penguins last season. ... D Josh Georges played 26:16 with 33 shifts vs. Maple Leafs. Hidden stat: Each team launched 65 pucks toward the net (shots, missed shots, shots that were blocked) in its opener but scored just twice.
"All summer I thought about it," Penguins winger Evgeni Malkin said. "It was a good season, and we lost, but I know we have a great chance to win again."
Tonight at Consol Energy Center, the Penguins will face the Canadiens for the first time since that night that turned the old arena dark.
Other than logging a win, which will be a first in 2010-11 for one of the 0-1 clubs, the Penguins had a difficult time pinning down what they can accomplish in the rematch.
"I don't think you get closure on stuff like that," winger Chris Kunitz said. "The whole year's over. We had a couple of months to think about that and then build toward the next year.
"Obviously, there's a bitter taste because we lost and it was in our rink, Game 7. We didn't play our game. Now it's a new season. There are some different players involved. But it would be really nice to get the win."
"No, there's no trying to settle the score," center Sidney Crosby said. "It's done with. You can't change that. I think there's a certain sense of motivation, for sure."
Montreal, which subsequently lost to Philadelphia in the conference final, expects there will be some lingering feelings on both sides from the long playoff series with the Penguins.
"You play a playoff series with a team the previous year, it probably adds a little bit to the dynamic of the relationship between the two teams," said winger Michael Cammalleri, who will make his season debut after sitting out the Canadiens' first game because of a suspension for uncharacteristically clobbering New York Islanders rookie Nino Niederreiter.
"I'm sure that the guys on their side will have a little extra jump in their step because they're not too happy to lose that series, and we have something to prove, that we've got to be able to beat them again."
Cammalleri was a Penguins-killer in that series, with seven goals, including two winners, and eight points.
The other primary hero for Montreal, goaltender Jaroslav Halak, is gone, having been dealt to St. Louis, one of the most high-impact transactions of the summer. The Canadiens decided to put their stock in Carey Price.
"It surprised me," Malkin said, then smiled. "Montreal fans were surprised, too. He's a good goalie."
Halak -- now the subject of an intensive promotional endeavor by the Blues -- faltered in Game 1 of the series, giving up five goals, then went 4-2, giving up just 11 goals and averaging 33 saves over those six games.
The Penguins have had roster turnover, too. Gone are players such as Sergei Gonchar, Mark Eaton, Jay McKee, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko.
New key players such as defensemen Paul Martin and Zbyneck Michalek and center Mike Comrie don't carry the kick-in-the-gut memory of that series.
Those who remain haven't been able to completely forget, especially with a rematch at hand.
"It definitely means something," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I have vivid memories from the Habs and from the disappointment of not achieving what we thought we could.
"So this game will have a little bit of that, even though we know it's a whole year removed and we're on to the next season. They're still going to be wearing their red and blue jerseys, and it's going to have that feel that they beat us in the playoffs last year."