Whatever the ultimate outcome of this series, I think we can all agree the Habs have nothing of which to be ashamed. Every single man on that team gave what he could to the cause last night and the team, as a whole, can't be faulted for coming up short.
The differences in the last five games have been the Penguins powerplay and good health, and the Habs' general lack of finish. One game of Jordan Staal missing isn't quite the same as missing Markov and Spacek, yet the Habs have held the Pens to a series of very tight games. That's remarkable, considering the skill the Penguins can call upon. That skill, though, is why they're able to capitalize on the PP. They load up their big point shots in Gonchar and Letang and surround them with the skills of Crosby and Malkin with Guerin standing in front of the net. That's a lethal combo at even strength, and extremely hard to contain shorthanded, especially if it happens to be one of your top PKers in the box. We've seen them score extremely detrimental PP goals with Gill, and last night, Gorges serving penalties.
The Habs, on the other hand, keenly feel the loss of Markov in setting up their PP. Subban is helping, but he's not Markov...yet. Without a comparable special-teams weapon, the Habs are getting killed by the Pens PP, which has been instrumental in their three wins. Still, despite that, they're hanging in there and scrounging up their goals at even strength.
The problem is, there aren't enough of them. The team's getting chances, but not cashing them. That's mainly because they're not driving the net hard. They're making some nice o-zone passing plays and taking a good shot. If Fleury stops it, there's nobody there to jump on the rebound. Game Four was won because guys like Darche and Lapierre were harrying Fleury and taking him out of his comfortable headspace. They did that a little bit last night, but not often enough. This is not a size issue. Gionta's the smallest man in the league, but he's always in the crease. It's an instinct issue, and there aren't enough Habs whose internal GPS's direct them to the blue paint.
I hear a lot about Plekanec not scoring, but for me, he gets a pass for his stellar defensive work on Crosby. The whiny baby isn't scoring either, and a lot of that has to do with the way Pleks is playing him. What concerns me is the lack of production from other guys who aren't being asked to shut down one of the trickiest hockey players on the planet. Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot, aside from maintaining some basic defensive awareness, aren't asked to do anything but go to the net and score. They're not doing that, and that's what the Habs are missing. Cammalleri and Gionta have been doing their share. Pleks has other duties. Gomez is the playmaker. Those guys are doing what they're supposed to do, but the finishers on the top-two lines are not.
It's easy to pick apart the third and fourth liners for not doing more as well. I'm not going to do that because I think they have nothing left to give. Pyatt, Lapierre, Darche, Moen, Metro and Moore have all been playing as well as I think they're able to play and if they make mistakes, it's because they are third and fourth-line players. They're playing their hearts out within their abilites. Really, they're contributing just as much as the third and fourth lines of the Pens.
Team Adversity has been beating the odds all year just to get where it is right now. It's not helping that injuries have come back to haunt them when it really matters, but these players deserve a great deal of credit for battling through it anyway. I hope they have another bit of magic left for tomorrow night because if there's such a thing as "deserving" to win a hockey game, these guys deserve it.