Sidney Crosby, Penguins fall short against Canadiens 5-2

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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.

Predators eliminate Ducks, reach first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history

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Colton Sissons made a serious argument that the Nashville Predators do, indeed, still have a No. 1 center.

At least, he certainly played that way on Monday, generating a hat trick as the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks via a 6-3 win, taking the series 4-2.

In doing so, the Predators advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

That 6-3 score is very misleading. While Nashville managed 2-0 and 3-1 leads, there was plenty of drama in this one, as the Ducks did not go down easily. Cam Fowler tied it up 3-3 in the third period, briefly stunning a rowdy crowd in Nashville.

Sissons was up to the task, however, settling down a bouncing puck on an otherwise stupendous Calle Jarnkrok pass to score the game-winner, notching a hat trick in the process. Sissons continues to be an unlikely hero for a Predators team dealing with the absence of Ryan Johansen (not to mention Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and others).

Two empty-netters inflated the score, and they also sapped drama from the closing moments, which must have been quite the relief considering how much resolve Anaheim showed.

Peter Laviolette distinguishes himself as one of the NHL’s most underrated bench bosses, becoming just the fourth coach in league history to take three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. He couldn’t win it all with the Philadelphia Flyers, but he does have a ring thanks to his time with the Carolina Hurricanes. Perhaps he’ll take another one this spring?

It’s quite the moment for GM David Poile, too, after trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Seth Jones for Johansen, among other pivotal moves.

The Ducks might wonder what could have been if John Gibson played instead of Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled early, allowing two goals on the first three shots he faced and generally having a tough Game 6. Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, maintained his mostly great run in the playoffs; he protected a Predators lead even when the Ducks dominated long stretches of play.

Now the Predators get a nice rest, as the Eastern Conference Final continues with a Game 6 on Tuesday (and possibly a Game 7 on Thursday).

They’ll limp a bit toward that final round, but the Predators seem to be embracing new territory. And sometimes new heroes.

Video: Ducks’ 3-3 goal survives goalie interference review

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When the Nashville Predators went up 3-1 in the third period, it seemed like they might finally put the Anaheim Ducks away in Game 6. The Ducks quickly responded with “Not yet.”

Two minutes after that 3-1 goal, Chris Wagner kept Anaheim’s hopes alive with a surprising tally. Corey Perry then bumped Pekka Rinne, but he was able to reset before Cam Fowler scored the 3-3 goal 8:52 into the final frame (of regulation).

In less than six minutes of game time, the tone of the contest changed rapidly. Now we’ll see if either team can get the next tally in the remaining minutes of the third or if the Stanley Cup Playoffs will see yet another overtime contest.

Here’s the Wagner goal:

You can see the 3-3 goal in the video above. Hold onto your seats.

Update: Moments after this was published, Colton Sissons‘ hat-trick goal made it 4-3. Could there be even more drama? We’ll see …

Game 6 is airing on NBCSN. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Coyotes’ Dylan Strome breaks Memorial Cup record with 7 points in game

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Dylan Strome’s journey to becoming a full-timer at the NHL level might be a little bumpy, but he continues to distinguish himself at other levels.

In the case of Monday, it was setting a new Memorial Cup record. With four goals and three assists, Strome’s seven-point game set a new record as he helped the Eerie Otters pummel the Saint John Sea Dogs 12-5.

They’ll face the Windsor Spitfires on Wednesday to determine which team goes to the tournament’s final round.

The performance wasn’t lost on his brother Ryan Strome.

Ducks dominate, but Predators enter third up 2-1

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So far, it seems like Jonathan Bernier playing instead of John Gibson for the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 has indeed been a pretty big deal.

Bernier allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced against to start Game 6, putting the Ducks in an early hole. The Ducks have been absolutely dominating the contest since then, but only Ondrej Kase could get a puck beyond Pekka Rinne through the first 40 minutes.

Seriously, the play’s been lopsided. Nashville managed a few shots after this tweet, yet it still tells much of the story.