For longtime Habs haters, to those who shout out typical Montreal when a penalty call doesnt go their way against the Montreal Canadiens, these should be good days.The Habs are mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. They canned an assistant coach just hours before the start of a game in an ultimate panic move during the seasons first month. They fired a head coach that had taken them to the conference finals just two years ago. Theyve become a mere shell of their once-and-former greatness on the ice.Its only a matter of time before general manager Pierre Gautier is in the crosshairs himself after the horrendous contract given to the gimpy Andrei Markov and the onerous contract adopted when dealing for Tomas Kaberle. Sure, Kaberle has given them some short-term boost, but that deal with two more years at 4 million per season will end up handcuffing the Habs in the end.So its well-established what a catastrophe the Canadiens have become on ice this year.But whats really troubling about the proud franchise are the public stances that the influential Habs are not taking. There have been several instances where the Canadiens could have used their clout and influence to keep things under control in Montreal, and instead theyve simply let things spin away from them.The Canadiens could have stepped in and quieted the fervor that led to an overflow of 911 calls and a farcical public investigation into Zdeno Chara last year. But instead they let their hockey-as-religion fandom become a frenzied laughingstock. A few well-placed words would have calmed things down rather than incited them particularly when it was clear that Max Pacioretty was going to be perfectly okay.Once again it now appears the Habs are allowing and even condoning another public boondoggle with the biased sentiment against interim coach Randy Cunneyworth and English-speaking coaches everywhere.Lets forget about the fact Montreal has jettisoned French-speaking coaches like Claude Julien and Guy Carbonneau in the past, and has painted itself into the current 1-3-1 trap thats bogged them down. Perhaps this is all just a ruse to grease the skids for Patrick Roy to take over next season.But its all been done in such a clumsy and slipshod manner that it seems very unbecoming of a Canadiens franchise that does everything with class, style and panache. The Habs are allowing usage of the Bell Centre building for a language rally, and thats about as clear an endorsement as youll get for the frivolous language argument taking place in Montreal right now.Its also part of the reason Montreal is such a mess right now.Peripheral, non-sports issues like whether the coach is Anglo or Francophone are taking over the conversation rather than ways to fix a beleaguered, inexperienced defensemen crew.People care more about whether the coachs name is Guy or Pierre than they do about whatever is needed to get the mercurial P.K. Subban back on the right track.The first rule to turning a hockey team around is actually paying attention to details pertinent to the actual hockey team. Everybody knows that hockey is religion in Canada, and Montreal is fanatical breeding ground where Les Habitants seemingly permeate everything.Its almost like the Middle East of hockey in terms of wild-eyed followers, and the team could do plenty to influence those most ardent supporters of the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge. Instead the government, the police, and the rank and file citizens are in accordance with Habs ownership and management in a concert of crazy that keeps tarnishing the teams pristine image over and over again. Cooler heads at the top of these powerful organizations could take action to simmer down the rabid nature of it all, but instead they stoke the flames of controversy and dissent.Montreal is a beautiful city with great, passionate people, but its not all that surprising to know its also a city thats a playoff upset or two away from Habs fans and Montreal hooligans burning police cruisers in the streets. Thats exactly what they did four years ago after beating the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs when the Habs were the No. 1 seed. Thats right . . . the first round.Its time for somebody to grab the city by the scruff and let them know its just a hockey team at the end of the day, and not a political demagogue or religious symbol.Nobody is going to care what language the Habs coach is speaking if they dont start winning some games, and thats really what its all about at the end of the day.Isnt it?
PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.
Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.
Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.
The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.
Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.
Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.
All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.
The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.
Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.
Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.
It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.
Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.
It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.
Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.
Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.
Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.
No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.
Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.
SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.
Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.
No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.
Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.
Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.