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Old 03-17-2007, 12:54 AM   #1439
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Penguins Notebook: Fans add to playoff pressure for Canadiens

Saturday, March 17, 2007
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

With less than a month before the end of the regular season, the Montreal Canadiens were on the outside looking in for the Eastern Conference playoff race going into their game against the Penguins last night.

That's an uncomfortable position for a team with one of the richest histories in professional sports. Montreal has won 23 Stanley Cups and has made the playoffs all but 12 seasons since 1917-18.

Since they last won the Cup in 1993, though, the Canadiens have missed the playoffs five times and been ousted in the first round three other times, including last season.

The French-Canadian Penguins know the kind of expectations and emotion Montreal's playoff quest elicits in Quebec province.

"People expect every year that they will make the playoffs," Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said yesterday. "Sometimes maybe it's more relaxing to play on the road."

Canadiens winger Guillaume Latendresse refuted that last point. He said it's more a case of the fans experiencing each win and loss -- and the cumulative results -- as if they were skating alongside the players.

"They're going to be frustrated for sure [if the Canadiens miss the playoffs]," Latendresse said, "but they know that we work hard every night to try to get in the playoffs."

"I have the French TV at home, with a dish, and it's crazy how much the media and the fans are putting pressure on this team," Penguins winger Maxime Talbot said.

Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said the parity that has come with a salary cap and rules changes makes it difficult for any franchise to dominate or build a dynasty.

"Look at the two teams that made it to the finals last year -- they're struggling to make the playoffs this year," Carbonneau said.

That would be defending champion Carolina, which was barely above the playoff cutoff in the East, and Edmonton, which was 18 points out of a playoff spot in the West.

Pair of prospects shine

Notre Dame senior goaltender David Brown, an eighth-round draft choice by the Penguins in 2004, was named the Central Collegiate Hockey Association player of the year.

Brown led the NCAA with a goals-against average of 1.64 and tied for sixth with a .928 save percentage for the No. 1 Fighting Irish.

Brown is one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

Another of the finalists is St. Cloud State goaltender Bobby Goepfert, a Penguins' sixth-round draft pick in 2002.

He had a 2.08 goals-against average.

Spreading the wealth

Going into last night, 10 players had at least one shorthanded goal for the Canadiens, including three defensemen.

Carbonneau said it's just a product of spreading the responsibility of killing penalties.

"We had so many penalties earlier this year that I had no choice but to use a lot more guys," Carbonneau said.

Slap shots

The Penguins scratched defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski and forwards Chris Thorburn, Ronald Petrovicky and Nils Ekman, with winger Georges Laraque returning to the lineup after he missed two games because of back spasms. ... Montreal scratched goaltender Michael Leighton and forwards Sergei Samonsov, Radek Bonk (flu), Alex Kovalev (vertigo) and Alexander Perezhogin.
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