Habs look to put Pens on verge of elimination

The Montreal Canadiens are the 12th — or lowest — seed in the Eastern Conference qualifying round in Toronto, making them the underdog against the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Canadiens might have overcome that statistic with this one: They beat the Penguins 3-2 in overtime Saturday in Game 1 of their series, and historically NHL teams that take the first game in a best-of-five series have gone on to clinch it 81.9 percent of the time (68 of 83 times).

Going into Game 2 Monday, Montreal is cautiously buoyed by its one-game lead in the series.

“It gives us a lot of confidence,” said Nick Suzuki, who scored Montreal’s second goal Saturday. “A lot of people didn’t see us as contenders. So we want to show that we can compete with anyone. (Winning Game 1) is a good first step but we know they are going to bring their A-game the next game, and we need to be ready for that.”

It should probably be noted that the NHL had not staged any best-of-five series since 1986 but it is using that format as part of its plan to return to play after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien also noted that the Penguins have some veterans who have won at least two Stanley Cups.

“We’re playing an experienced team,” he said. “They’ve won (titles). They know how to win. And we have what we have. And the only chance we have is that we play on our toes and not on our heels.

“I think (the Canadiens) feel pretty good about where they are right now and our group. I hope they can continue to play that way because they were key to our victory (in Game 1).”

Although Montreal goaltender Carey Price, considered a key figure in this series, made 39 saves and stopped all 18 shots he faced in the first period, Pittsburgh pointed to a lot of missed opportunities it needs to address.

That particularly applies to the power play, which despite a ton of firepower was 1-for-7, including a failed five-on-three chance. The one man-advantage goal came from Bryan Rust with the second unit.

“Obviously, it had an opportunity to be the difference … and it wasn’t,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

But it still could, countered Justin Schultz.

“We had some good looks, some good chances,” Schultz said of the Pittsburgh power play. “Obviously, there’s always room for improvement. I think we can do a better job of moving, supporting each other, outworking the (penalty kill). But I think we’ll be fine.”

Another area that the Penguins want to shore up for Game 2 is their play in front of Price.

“Areas where we can make it harder on Montreal is if we get to the net more consistently and take the goalie’s sight lines away, make it harder on him to find the puck and maybe create some rebound opportunities,” Sullivan said. “We had our moments when we were at the net but we can get better at that.”

In a race to three wins, that might need to happen quickly.

“Luckily, it’s not a single-elimination tournament,” Rust said. “We’ve got to heed the lessons.”

–Field Level Media

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