MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens won’t complain that Sidney Crosby draws the odd questionable penalty?at least for as long as the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar isn’t killing them with goals.
The Canadiens have kept Crosby from scoring?quite a feat, considering he finished with 51 regular-season goals, tied for the league lead with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. Yet, despite the recent drought, the Penguins’ captain has made his presence felt in other ways.
Crosby looked to be at his thespian best as he lashed about with defenceman Hal Gill leaning into him, drawing what turned out to be a decisive holding call with 12 seconds left in the second period of Pittsburgh’s 2-0 victory in Game 3 of their NHL Eastern Conference playoff series.
Then Crosby whacked Josh Gorges on the foot as the period ended, causing a melee that saw Gorges and Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang sent off.
With both members of Montreal’s shutout defence pair in the penalty box, Evgeni Malkin scored to break the 0-0 tie at 1:16 of the third period before Pascal Dupuis added an empty-net goal in the dying seconds.
Gill, who was Crosby’s teammate when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last spring, said drawing calls is just one of the things Sid The Kid does well.
”He’s a guy that leans on you and tries to drive the net and get low and sometimes, when you hit him, he rolls off you and drives into you and he generates a lot of calls that way,” said Gill. ”He’s a tough guy to play against because you have to stick and move, so to speak. But it’s not always that easy to do.”
The win gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven series with Game 4 set for Thursday night, when there is a chance that Penguins centre Jordan Staal may return after having his right foot cut by a skate in Game 1 and Montreal defenceman Jaroslav Spacek may be back after missing seven playoff games with a virus.
Since he joined the NHL after being drafted first overall in 2005, there have been accusations against Crosby of being a whiner for his theatrics on the ice and yapping at officials, although there has been less of it in recent years.
Canadiens centre Scott Gomez said all players are looking for an edge in the post-season.
”No one’s going to be squeaky clean out there,” he said. ”If you are, you’re probably in the wrong game.
”I don’t think anyone should be shocked. If you can get an extra jab in or anything and get away with it, that’s playoff hockey. It’s just the way the game’s always been.”
Crosby had five goals and nine assists in the first five games of Pittsburgh’s six-game series win over Ottawa in the opening round, but since then, he has put up only a pair of assists in the Pens’ 6-3 win in the opening game of the semifinals. His frustration was evident during Montreal’s 3-1 win in Game 2, when he smashed his stick against goalie Jaroslav Halak’s goalpost after a missed chance.
In three games against Montreal, he has only three shots on goal, but has played hard defensively, taken extra faceoffs in Staal’s absence and generally found other ways to contribute, including drawing the odd penalty.
”He’s still doing little things out there,” said Gomez. ”He’s still making plays happen.
”We’ve all gone through (scoring slumps). It’s probably just not normal to see it from him. Give a little credit to our defence and stuff, but he’s had good looks. And every time he’s on the ice, he’s one of those special players. You’ve got to be on your toes a little more because he can make things happen.”
Crosby hasn’t scored in eight games at the Bell Centre since notching two on his first visit in January, 2006. The crowd boos whenever he touches the puck and perhaps feels it can put Canada’s Olympic golden goal scorer off his game.
Gomez doubts that.
”We’re definitely not under his skin,” he said. ”I don’t think you can rattle him.
”Everyone talks about (basketball’s) LeBron James living up to the hype. In our game, he’s done it. We’ve heard about him since he was a kid. He’s gone through it all. He’s the best player in the world. Just as a team effort, we’re trying to contain him but I don’t think you can contain a guy like that. He’s had a couple of good chances. Hopefully we’ll keep playing good tight D.”
There has been no wide disparity in penalty calls. Pittsburgh is 5-for-11 with the man advantage, thanks to a 4-for-4 effort in the series opener, while Montreal is 2-for-9.
The Canadiens are more concerned with finding ways to boost their attack after being shut down at home by Fleury, who made key saves late on Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec to preserve the victory.
Coach Jacques Martin was pleased that struggling winger Andrei Kostitsyn rebounded with a good effort in Game 3 despite not getting a point, after going seven mostly listless games with only one assist. The team’s regular season scoring leader Plekanec has one assist in his last four games, while winger Benoit Pouliot has only two assists in the playoffs
Eight Canadiens took part in an optional skate, including Spacek, Gill, Ben Maxwell, Mathieu Darche, Glen Metropolit, brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn and backup goalie Carey Price.
Darche dressed for Game 3, but did not get a single shift. Should Spacek return, look for Darche to sit and defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron to move into his spot on left wing on the fourth line.
After the team’s game-day skate Tuesday, Price got into an exchange of words with Sergei Kostitsyn for leaving the ice early even though he wasn’t in the game lineup. A day later, Kostitsyn was one of the last players to leave the ice.
”That’s an internal matter, between him, me and the team,” said Martin.