Sidney Crosby, Penguins fall short against Canadiens 5-2


habsbeatpens.jpgThe Montreal Canadiens have become experts at “stealing” victories thanks to conservative defense, great goaltending and timely offense. Tonight, however, the Pittsburgh Penguins practically dropped victory in their laps.

Montreal Canadiens 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

Canadiens win series 4-3

Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury set the tone for the game … the only problem was that they set the wrong tone. Crosby took a foolish boarding penalty 10 seconds into the game and Fleury allowed a goal on that powerplay only 32 seconds in. Crosby ended up with a -2 rating in Game 7 while Fleury didn’t even make it past the second period after allowing 4 back-breaking goals.

Let’s not to take anything away from the Habs’ spirited performance, though. Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta were amazing in the series, scoring an astounding 11 goals between them in those seven games. Jaroslav Halak had yet another great elimination game performance, making some huge third period saves to maintain what was then a two-goal lead. Halak is now an outstanding 5-0 in do-or-die games this playoffs. While I think that the Penguins shot themselves in the foot multiple times in this game, the Habs showed killer instinct time and time again to make them pay for almost every mistake.

Montreal awaits the winner of the Flyers-Bruins series, which heads to a Game 7 of its own after Philadelphia defeated Boston 2-1 in Game 6. Whether it is the Bruins or the Flyers, the Habs may actually find themselves in an unfamiliar position: as the prohibitive favorites.

The Penguins closed out the Mellon Arena with an up-and-down game (or is it a down-slightly up-then down again game?). Pens fans should have mixed feelings about this season. The negative view is that the team had a golden opportunity for a stunning third consecutive Stanley Cup Finals run but couldn’t get past the underdog Canadiens or their own errors. That being said, you’d have to be a pretty spoiled fan to expect them to make it there year after year. The team has issues to address – the unrestricted free agent status of Sergei Gonchar is the first thing that comes to mind – but they also still have their young nucleus in place. Despite highs and lows Crosby, Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal will live to fight another day.

Does that mean they ended their season without regrets? No, there’s certainly reason to ask “What if?” but the bottom line is that they couldn’t crack the Canadiens code. Give the Habs credit, though; they earned this win.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”