MONTREAL - Throughout their improbable run to the second round of the NHL playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens could rely on the steady play of Hal Gill and Josh Gorges every time one of their players headed off to the penalty box.
But in Game 3 of the Canadiens second round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gill and Gorges had the worst seat in the house when Evgeni Malkin scored the winning goal.
The Canadiens shutdown defencemen were sitting next to each other in the penalty box when Malkin wired a one-timer from the top of the circle past Jaroslav Halak to put the Penguins up 1-0 at 1:16 of the third period.
The two defenceman are used to killing penalties rather than serving them. The suffocating play of Gill and Gorges is the key reason the Canadiens were able to hold Alex Ovechkin and the high-flying Washington Capitals to 1 for 33 on the power play in the first round.
“That’s no fun,” Gill said. “It’s a sickening feeling when you’re in the box and they score.”
Gill had taken the original penalty when he was whistled for holding Sidney Crosby with 12 seconds left in the second period.
“It’s tough,” Gill said. “That’s one of those plays where if you try too hard you get a penalty.”
As the second period came to a close, Gorges got tangled up with Crosby behind the Canadiens net and before long all nine skaters on the ice were going after each other.
Gorges emerged from the scrum at the side of the net, swung around and went straight after Kristopher Letang as both dropped their gloves but got into a more of a wrestling match than a fight.
Gorges and Letang were given offsetting roughing minors, which meant Gill would have familiar company in the penalty box at the start of the third period.
“I just went for whoever was free, it wasn’t a matter of going after anybody,” Gorges said when asked if Letang did anything to provoke him. “Obviously it’s not what you want because we would have liked to have been out there killing it. But the guys that were out there killing it on defence did a great job.”
That would be veteran Roman Hamrlik and rookie P.K. Subban, who made a great diving play on that penalty kill to prevent a Crosby feed from finding Chris Kunitz.
The play almost surely saved a goal, and provided further evidence of just how well Subban is adjusting to the pace of the NHL playoffs.
Subban, who turns 21 on May 13, played a game-high 30 shifts as he logged major minutes on both special teams units and was usually matched up against Malkin’s line at even strength.
He had some regrets on Malkin’s goal that came moments after his spectacular play that prevented Kunitz from scoring.
“Usually we get a blocked shot there or something,” said Subban, who had just over 22 minutes of ice time. “But you have to give them credit, they executed.”
The Canadiens had a power play opportunity of their own with 5:31 left in regulation but got bogged down trying to get set up in the offensive zone.
They did manage to generate an excellent scoring chance about halfway through the man advantage when Brian Gionta fed Mike Cammalleri cross-ice and the puck immediately went to Tomas Plekanec in front, but Marc-Andre Fleury made a great save on the tip to keep Montreal off the board.
“We’re not disappointed in the way we played or the effort, I just think we’ve all got a little bit better in us,” said Cammalleri, who was also denied by Fleury on a one-timer opportunity in the third period. “Not much, but a little bit better. Then maybe we get the one goal we need and they don’t get the one goal they did.”