Halak, Canadiens hold off Penguins
Netminder stops 33 shots while Lapierre, Gionta wipe out 3rd-period deficit
The Montreal Canadiens, given 20 minutes to take advantage of home ice and save what seemed like a season slipping away, had luck on their side and turned to their best playoff performer to stay alive.
Maxim Lapierre and Brian Gionta scored 93 seconds apart early in the third period to erase a 2-1 deficit and then watched as goalie Jaroslav Halak turned away Pittsburgh in the final seconds for a 3-2 victory Thursday night.
Gionta's winning goal came off an intended pass that deflected off the right skate of Penguins defenceman Kris Letang and past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to allow the Canadiens to even the best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference semifinal 2-2 and guarantee themselves another home game, even though they have won just twice in the past nine post-season starts at the Bell Centre.
"You look at the first two periods, we had no options. All you could do was … chip [the puck] up [the ice]. We never had any puck control," Gionta told Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada after the game. "We did a better job in the third period getting back [to our zone and] coming up [the ice together].
Subban stays even-keeled
Those who believed P.K. Subban would never recover from a blue-line giveaway that led to Pittsburgh's first goal Thursday night are clearly unaware of the rookie defenceman's mental makeup.
The 20-year-old went on to post an even rating and 22 minutes one second of ice time — third most on the Canadiens blue-line — in a come-from-behind 3-2 win at Montreal to tie the best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference semifinal at two games apiece.
Subban has been an integral part of the Canadiens defence since he was summoned from the American Hockey League on April 26 after recording 18 goals and 53 points this season for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
"I knew when I got called up that every game wasn't going to be easy for me. It's a learning experience for me, and what a way to learn in the playoffs," the Toronto native told Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman after Thursday's win.
"Everthing is amplified [in the NHL]. You can't get too high, you can't get too low.… You're going to make mistakes but it's how you handle it.
"Are you going to seize up and be afraid to make plays or are you going to continue to play?" Subban added. "It was a 2-1 game [in Pittsburgh's favour] going into the third period. My first two periods were tough but you gotta stick with it and I had the support of my teammates.
"[Canadiens assistant coach] Perry Pearn was telling me, 'P.K., keep going, keep going, keep going.' You learn from that and get better for the next game."
The personable Subban praised the work of his defence partner, Roman Hamrlik, on Thursday, noting the veteran NHLer backed him up when the youngster made mistakes.
"I just want to play hockey and I want to win. You always have to have that mentality that you just want to get better every day and can't get complacent," said Subban.
"Obviously [as the defending Stanley Cup champions] they know what it takes to win, so we needed tonight to come out with a win. I don't think we could go down 3-1 [in the series] against this team."
Game 5 is Saturday at Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET), with the series returning to Montreal for Game 6 on Monday night.
Halak allowed goals on the first two shots he faced Thursday, courtesy Max Talbot and Chris Kunitz, but turned aside the next 33 directed his way to help hand Pittsburgh its first road defeat of this year's post-season.
The Montreal netminder made nine saves in the final 20 minutes, including a diving stop against Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who was staring at an open net midway through the third period.
Broke in alone
Halak also denied defenceman Sergei Gonchar with his glove hand and got a piece of a shot by Evgeni Malkin, who broke in alone with four minutes left in regulation.
Fittingly, with the Penguins swarming the net in the waning seconds, Halak cleared the puck from the Canadiens zone to run out the clock and send many in the crowd of 21,273 into a frenzy.
What former NHL goalie Glenn Healy likes about Halak's game is that he has his teammates believing.
"When the game was 2-1 … he didn't allow that third goal. He made some spectacular saves," said the HNIC analyst. "That enabled his team to regroup in the second period, get their heads around that 'we're one shot away' [from tying the game]. And then the saves he made when it was 3-2, spectacular, particularly the one against Crosby.
"That team believes in their goaltender. They believe that they can win, no matter how many shots, how many scoring chances [against], where they're from."
Sid The Kid led the Penguins with five shots in Game 4 but probably can't wait to get home after failing to score in his last nine visits to Montreal. He has also been held to two assists in the past four contests.
"Let's give the guys in red a little bit of credit," said Healy of the Canadiens. "They have found a way — and I think [Montreal assistant coach] Kirk Muller has been a mastermind at this — to eliminate one of the best players in the game, the best player in the game [in Crosby]. The recipe to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins or have this series at 2-2 is to make sure that [No.] 87's off the board."
But the Canadiens did their best to hand Thursday's game — and potentially the series — to the visitors as Gionta and Mathieu Darche were assessed penalties in the first 10 minutes of the third.
Power play denied
But a Pittsburgh power play, which went 4-for-4 in the series opener and clicked for the winning goal in Game 3 on Tuesday, was denied.
Montreal grabbed the early momentum when rookie centre Tom Pyatt sent a harmless-looking shot from the sideboards to the net that slid under Fleury's pads.
Talbot tied the game 53 seconds later, tucking the puck under Halak's left pad after rookie Canadiens rearguard P.K. Subban gave up the puck at the Pittsburgh blue-line.
The Penguins got a fluky goal of their own to take the lead. Chris Kunitz fanned on a Crosby pass but the puck bounced off his right skate and then the left before crossing the goal line, the third goal of the night on six shots.
That's when Halak took over and kept it a one-goal game, while his teammates struggled to get the puck out of the defensive zone and were outshot 25-9 through two periods.
A shaky Fleury faced 25 shots for the Penguins.
"That's playoff hockey," said Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma. "In this building, being on the road, it's a tough place to [come back] in and they got momentum. We ended up getting some opportunities, but we couldn't cash in."
On the injury front, Penguins centre Jordan Staal was back and played a strong game with limited ice time, only two games after having surgery to repair a severed tendon in his right foot. Veteran forwards Bill Guerin and Michael Rupp sat out with undisclosed injuries or illness. For Montreal, defenceman Jaroslav Spacek, who has been skating for a week, missed an eighth straight game with a virus.
With files from The Canadian Press