These aren’t the Montreal Canadiens who have plaques hanging on walls a few blocks away in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
There’s not a Maurice Richard or Jean Beliveau on this roster.
There isn’t even a Vincent Damphousse or Mike Cammalleri, members of Canadiens teams who sparked upsets of superior Penguins teams in previous postseason matchups a handful of generations ago.
No, these Montreal Canadiens, who the Penguins squared off with in Game 1 of a qualifying round series in Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena on Saturday were the 24th-best team in the NHL during the regular season. They are not to be feared.
But don’t dare disrespect them.
The Penguins received a blunt refresher of that requirement as they lost in overtime 3-2 to open the best-of-five series.
Montreal claimed victory at 13 minutes, 57 seconds of overtime. After a pass attempt by Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher from the right wing was blocked by Penguins forward Brandon Tanev, Canadiens defenseman Jeff Petry jumped on the rebound in the right circle and wired a wrister past goaltender Matt Murray’s blocker on the far side.
“I don’t think there’s a single person in our organization that takes the Canadiens lightly,” coach Mike Sullivan said Thursday, via video conference from Toronto. “We understand how good a team they are. We have a lot of respect for Montreal and we know we have to be at our best in order to have success.”
One area of the Penguins game which was hardly at its peak was the power play. It went 1 for 7, including a five-on-three sequence which generated two shots on five attempts during a span of 1:32 in the third period.
“We just have to execute better,” Sullivan said of his sputtering power play following the loss. “We’ve got to try to get some shots. But the one area I think where we could have improved throughout the course of our whole overall game, the power play included, is just more of a net presence, making it hard on (Canadiens goaltender Carey) Price to see the puck. We had opportunity to get to the net, take away his sight lines and we didn’t do as good a job of that tonight.”
The Canadiens were up to the task early. After weathering a strong opening surge by the Penguins, Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi crashed the crease and scored an ugly goal that deflected off his left arm 11:27 into regulation.
It became a 2-0 contest at 6:53 of the second period after Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki converted a two-on-one rush by wiring a wrister from the left circle to the far side past the glove hand of Matt Murray, who finished with 32 saves.
The Penguins got on the scoreboard just over three minutes later at the 9:55 mark. Collecting a loose puck on the offensive zone’s right half wall, Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz chopped a slap-pass to the slot. Penguins forward Jake Guentzel attempted to re-direct it on net but ended up pushing the puck to forward Sidney Crosby, positioned to the right of the cage. Crosby shuffled the puck into the crease where it deflected off of Price’s left skate and into the net.
The lone power-play goal of the contest was scored by the Penguins’ second unit at 12:34 of the second. Forward Jared McCann blasted a slapper from the right circle which struck forward Patric Hornqvist, positioned above the crease, in the midsection. The puck plopped onto the ice just beyond the limits of the blue paint. Forward Bryan Rust surged past Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen and lifted a gentle wrister past Price’s glove.
In the third period, the Penguins had three power-play opportunities, including that ill-fated two-man advantage.
“We could have probably moved the puck a little bit quicker,” said Rust, who largely manned the left circle on the sequence. “Anytime you can zip it around a little bit, it gets that penalty kill moving. I thought we did a pretty good job of trying to get some shots to the net and getting some puck retrievals. But obviously when the puck doesn’t go into the net, there’s obviously places to get better.”
Penalty shots would be an area in immediate upgrade for both squads. Penguins forward Conor Sheary fired a wrister wide with a penalty shot late in regulation at 16:57 of the third period. He was outdone by Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin who failed to even get a shot off with a backhand attempt at 6:46 of overtime.
Despite the setback, the Penguins seemed satisfied with their effort, particularly in that they had ample chances to win this game, including a power-play chance in overtime.
But they also acknowledge the need for considerable refinement with their malfunctioning power play.
“We had some good looks, some good chances,” Schultz said. “Obviously, there’s always room for improvement. I think we can do a better job of moving, supporting each other, outworking the (Canadiens’ penalty kill). But I think we’ll be fine.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
Penguins/NHL | Sports