Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) of Slovakia makes a first period save as Pittsburgh Penguins Craig Adams (27) looks for the rebound during a Eastern Conference semi-final NHL playoff hockey game in Pittsburgh Saturday, May 8, 2010.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Crosby and Malkin. Malkin and Crosby. The Penguins' two stars get so much attention that the other key player who was largely responsible for them winning the Stanley Cup last season often gets lost in the mix.
Marc-Andre Fleury made certain he wasn't overlooked in the Penguins' 2-1 victory over Montreal in Game 5 on Saturday night, one that Sidney Crosby labelled beforehand as their biggest must-win game since the finals against Detroit last spring.
Fleury made 32 saves and Kris Letang scored on a power play as the Penguins moved within a victory of eliminating the Canadiens from the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"He was huge?and we need him to be like this," Penguins defenceman Sergei Gonchar said of Fleury.
Gonchar also scored as the Penguins put themselves in position to close out the series in Game 6 in Montreal on Monday night. The Canadiens, held to four goals in three games, must win to force a Game 7 on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
Montreal rallied to win the final three games in the opening round against top-seeded Washington, but Pittsburgh hasn't blown a 3-2 lead since the 1996 Eastern Conference final against Florida.
"Obviously, everybody still believes," Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak said. "It's 3-2, and we are still in it. We've been in this situation before."
Crosby remained without a goal in the series and Evgeni Malkin also didn't find the net?he did set up Letang's pivotal goal late in the first period?but the Penguins had enough offence without their stars to support Fleury's best game of the playoffs.
Trailing 2-0, Montreal pulled Halak to create a 6-on-4 advantage after Pascal Dupuis went off for slashing with 2:26 remaining. Mike Cammalleri scored his ninth goal with 30 seconds to play, but it was much too late for the Canadiens, who couldn't solve Fleury much like the Penguins have struggled against Halak at times during a tightly played series.
The Penguins won 2-0 in Game 3 before losing 3-2 in Game 4, when Brian Gionta's decisive goal during a late Montreal comeback deflected off Letang's skate in the slot and into the net. But Fleury was under considerably more pressure and needed to make tougher saves than he did in Game 3.
"I felt useful tonight, you know," Fleury said.
Halak also played another strong game, making 23 saves, but showed one weakness: one-timers from above the circles.
"Against these guys, one mistake here or there and they'll be in the net," said Canadiens forward Scott Gomez.
Letang, so upset after Game 4 that he wouldn't talk with reporters afterward, got the important first goal with a shot from the left point at 18:18 of the first. Malkin carried the puck out from behind the net to open a shooting lane for Letang to score Pittsburgh's seventh goal in 16 power-play chances to that point.
"They're trying to protect their goalie and the net, so if we can get some looks from those areas, guys can get them through," Crosby said.
Gonchar made it 2-0 midway through the second period while playing behind a makeshift line of Mike Rupp, the recently recalled Mark Letestu and Malkin. Gonchar took Brooks Orpik's cross-ice pass a few feet in front of the blue-line and drove a shot past Halak.
"The defencemen did a great job of getting the shots through," Rupp said. "If we don't do that, we're not going to score on this guy (Halak)."
With forward Bill Guerin back after sitting out two games with an undisclosed injury, the Penguins also did a better job of crowding the net to make it difficult for Halak to see the puck clearly.
"They had the traffic all the time in front of me, and we didn't (in front of Fleury)," Halak said. "We made it easy on their goalie."
Montreal played most of the final period without top defenceman Hal Gill, who sustained a cut while colliding with Chris Kunitz. The Canadiens said only that Gill will be evaluated Sunday.
Shortly before Gonchar scored, Montreal missed an excellent opportunity to tie it when Fleury lunged to his left to turn aside Glen Metropolit's one-handed shot. Fleury also made a key save on Cammalleri from in close early in the game.
"That gets you in the game, and it feels good for the rest," Fleury said.
NOTES: The Penguins are 3-3 at home. They haven't lost four of their first six at home in any playoff year. ... F Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has only three goals in 26 games with Pittsburgh since being acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs, was a healthy scratch. ... Pittsburgh is 10-2 in the playoffs following a loss under second-year coach Dan Bylsma.