The Pittsburgh Penguins found a way to solve the seemingly unbeatable Jaroslav Halak on Friday night: get Montreal to play some undisciplined hockey.
Sergei Gonchar, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski scored power-play goals to lead the hometown Penguins to a 6-3 victory.
Craig Adams added an even-strength marker and Bill Guerin an empty-netter while captain Sidney Crosby, this year's NHL playoff scoring leader with 16 points, had two assists.
Halak, who stopped 131 of 134 shots in the final three games of an upset series win over the top-seeded Washington Capitals, was pulled in favour of Carey Price at 14:40 of the third period after allowing five goals on 20 shots.
Markov, Staal go down
Montreal Canadiens defenceman Andrei Markov was helped off the ice with an apparent right leg injury after being rammed by Penguins' Matt Cooke during the first period Friday night, while fellow Pittsburgh forward Jordan Staal left the game in the second.
Markov was skating toward a loose puck in the corner when Cooke levelled him with a hit at 11:46. No penalty was called.
"He tried to actually hit me. I don't know what happened but he went down awkward and unfortunately got hurt," Cooke told Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman after Pittsburgh's 6-3 victory.
The Canadiens had a 14-20-3 record this season with Markov out of the lineup, and were 25-13-7 when Markov was healthy.
His status for Game 2 Sunday at 2 p.m. ET is unknown.
"He's a great player and a big part of their team," said Penguins forward Craig Adams of Markov. "They got a lot of depth over there and they've shown how resilient they are [coming back from 3-1 series deficit against Washington] so we're certainly not going to take anything for granted."
Staal injured his right leg during a second-period collision with Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban and didn't return.
Staal has never missed a game in four NHL seasons, and has played in 358 consecutive contests, including the post-season.
"I don't think he didn't play well," said Adams of Halak in an interview with Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman. "Our power play was good tonight and I couldn't really fault him for any of the goals. We expect whoever they put in there to be good."
In a role reversal from the regular season, Pittsburgh's power play has sprung to life in the first seven games of the Stanley Cup post-season. After converting 25 per cent of their chances against Ottawa in Round 1, the Penguins went 4-for-4 to open an Eastern Conference semifinal.
By contrast, the Canadiens killed 32 of 33 Capitals power plays in the first round.
Pittsburgh had a 17.2 per cent success rate with the man-advantage during the regular campaign to rank 19th among 30 teams.
"They beat us in the special teams department," Montreal forward Scott Gomez said. "I mean there's a reason they hoisted the Cup last year. If you make mistakes, they're going to jump on them."
On Thursday, Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis hinted the Canadiens' penalty kill wouldn't be nearly as successful as it was against Washington. He also predicted Halak would be lifted during the series.
"We watched some tapes and just tried to exploit their weaknesses," Letang said. "Special teams always comes up big in the playoffs."
Of the Penguins' four power-play goals Friday, three were scored from the middle of the ice and with a body in front of Halak.
Pens extend success vs. Habs
Gonchar answered Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban's first-ever NHL goal at 8:38 of the first period with a blast from just inside the blue-line that travelled past Guerin and Halak.
Staal made it 2-1 when he skated across the ice in the Montreal zone and fired the puck through a screen.
Letang's third goal of the post-season also came with a Penguins player in front of the net.
"It's been the focus of ours all through the playoffs and all year to get traffic in front of the net," Penguins forward Matt Cooke told HNIC. "It's tough to save what you don't see."
Players on Twitter
Eric Tangradi, C, Pittsburgh
- "Beauty day in the burgh … Can't wait to see this place later on tonight!"
Dan Ellis, G, Nashville
- "Sad to see ppl dogging the caps so hard. They ran into a goalie [Halak] that stole the series. Get thru the kitchen sink and all. Leave it at that!"
The Penguins have won four of five versus Montreal this season and outscored the Canadiens 15-5 in three victories at Pittsburgh.
Playing for the first time since dispatching the Senators in six games on Saturday, the Penguins threw puck after puck at Halak the way the increasingly frustrated Capitals did.
The Canadiens, back on the ice less than 48 hours following one of the biggest first-round upsets in NHL history, had a chance to cut into a 3-1 deficit when Crosby left the ice for four minutes, 39 seconds to seek medical attention for a facial injury.
Forward Mike Cammalleri scored his sixth of the post-season, but Adams restored Pittsburgh's two-goal advantage. It was his second goal of this year's playoffs after he failed to score in 82 regular-season contests.
Brian Gionta also scored and added an assist for the Canadiens, who blocked just 15 Penguins shots after getting in the way of 41 by Washington in their 2-1 Game 7 triumph.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday at Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET).