Canadiens head to Game 7 with 4-3 win over Penguins

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Habs3.jpgMontreal Canadiens 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 3

Series tied 3-3

With
all due respect to the diehard, and very vocal, Penguins fans out
there, I wish there was some way the next game could be played right
back at the Bell Centre.

With one of the loudest and most
electric crowds I’ve ever seen backing them the Canadiens stunned the
Penguins with a stellar performance, sending the series back to
Pittsburgh with a big 4-3 in yet another impressive Game 6 performance.
This time Jaroslav Halak didn’t have to be miraculous, merely great, as
the Habs turned in yet another great team performance.

A team
performance is exactly what was needed, as the Canadiens found some way
to keep Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby under control with two of their
top defensemen out and Jarolav Spacek returning from his injury. While
some of the tactics were certainly borderline, the team as a whole did
just enough to constantly frustrate Crosby, especially in the third
period.

What was most impressive was the way the Habs responded to
an early second period surge by the Penguins, one that put Pittsburgh
up 2-1 after Kris Letang’s power play goal. The Habs regrouped and
scored two quick goals of their own, stunning the Penguins and heading
to the second intermission with a 3-2 lead and every ounce of momentum.

The
Penguins would be held in check for most of the third, until Sergei
Gonchar gave the Pens new life with his goal with just over a minute
remaining. Yet with Fleury pulled, the Penguins were unable to muster
another sustained attack and the Habs escaped with another big win.

For
the second time in two rounds, the Montreal Canadiens are headed to a
Game 7 on the road, with the chance to take out Sidney Crosby and the
defending Stanley Cup Champions. Their big victory over Washington in
the first round will give the team all the confidence they’ll need to
win, but you have to think that the Penguins will put up a much tougher
fight than they did tonight.

Sidney Crosby  and Evgeni Malkin have
combined for just two goals and six assists in the series, as the Habs
have focused on taking out the two centers and daring the Penguins’
wingers to beat them. It’s a strategy that overall has worked, and one
that the Canadiens will look to continue to use in Game 7. For the
Penguins, there’s no doubt this team needs more of an effort from its
role players, the Max Talbot’s and the Tyler Kennedy’s and the Bill
Guerin’s.

The Canadiens have proven that it’s not what your
superstars do, it’s what the team does that counts. They’ll try and
prove it once more in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal