The mathematical progression was obvious for the Montreal Canadiens, a team that defies logic but not arithmetic: six shots in the first period and three shots in the second period, which surely meant one and a half shots were coming in the third period.
As a cockeyed dream for a 25th Stanley Cup continued in Game 4, it would happen precisely that way.
And if you never have seen half a shot before ... well, you clearly missed
Then about a minute and a half later came the dollop of pixie dust that the Canadiens -- outshot and outmanned and out of their mind with a stubborn willingness to get in the way of shots -- needed to stay with the Penguins, a team whose path to a third straight Stanley Cup final should be strewn with rose petals.
Skating down the right wing, Gionta simply flung the puck into the middle of the ice, maybe five feet outside the crease, where vulcanized rubber met
Montreal 3, Penguins 2. Disbelief, limitless.
The Canadiens actually would shovel 16 shots at Pittsburgh in the final period, but it hardly mattered after the opening flurry. Their defensive poise, which frayed badly at even-strength for the first time in the series, returned, goalie
"If you'd said at the start it'd be two out of three going into Pittsburgh (for Game 5 Saturday),"
Now here is more math that works in Montreal's favor: although the Penguins have just five goals in the past three games (including an empty netter), 11 Penguins have scored in the series. Not one of them is Crosby.
Crosby was back on the score sheet after two fallow matches -- although, really, he was fine in Game 3 -- but his assist on the second Pittsburgh goal was thin gruel for the player who stormed through the regular season with 51 goals and made the first round against Ottawa into his pet project. He was hardly invisible in Game 4 -- five shots, strong on the puck around the boards and near the net -- but again missing regular right wing
"Our backchecking has been pretty good," said Montreal defenseman
Certainly Gill and colleagues were after the rocky first period, anyway. For the first time in the series, the Canadiens slipped off message. Maybe it was the curious officiating. (To the 21,273 drama critics at the Bell Centre, the handiwork of
When the culprit was a rookie like
But even Gill, who justifies his contract in the playoffs, looked on edge. He made two careless passes, dead giveaways on everything but the official scoresheet, took a soft holding penalty on
The Penguins were outshooting Montreal, 15-6, after the first, but this wasn't the controlled burn typical of the Canadiens, who rope-a-dope until they can find a way to win. This was a wildfire they seemed incapable of containing.
"I think we got off our game worrying about [the refereeing] too much," said
The crowd took an exception to a tripping penalty on Darche with 11:05 remaining in the third period, letting rip a freshet of soft drinks cups and the Go Habs Go towels that had been handed out at the doors. While showing tolerably good arms, it still was a pity from a sophisticated hockey crowd. If the Canadiens can manage to keep their wits about them throughout the playoffs, the customers should, too.
No matter how this second-round series finishes, the only people in Montreal throwing in the towels will be fans.