Entering Tuesday night’s contest at the Bell Centre, the Penguins had a chance to accomplish something they’ve never done during their 45-year history. Namely, sweep a season series with Montreal. Too bad the Canadiens weren’t in a cooperative mood. Paced by Carey Price’s 32 saves, the Habs nipped the Pens 3-2 on a shootout winner by Tomas Plekanec.
Following a choppy opening 10 minutes of play, the game turned into a pulsating, back-and-forth affair that kept the La Belle Province faithful on the edge of their seats. Midway through the second period Montreal rookie Louis Leblanc broke a taut scoreless tie when he beat Marc-Andre Fleury from the slot on a partial breakaway.
Showing plenty of pluck, the Pens evened the score 63 seconds into the final period, courtesy of a nifty shorthanded tally. Pascal Dupuis worked the puck off the sideboards and fed streaking Joe Vitale in stride. In a play that typifies his hustling style, the St. Louis native churned past a Habs defender and ripped a shot on goal. The puck deflected in off the right skate of Dupuis, who dutifully drove to the net.
Montreal countered two minutes later, thanks to a slick bit of chicanery by Lars Eller. Just as he reached the Penguins’ blue line, the Norwegian winger faked a dump in and snapped a shot on net instead. The puck eluded Fleury, who was fooled on the play.
Fortunately for “Flower,” his teammates soon bailed him out. Shrugging off the persistent checking of Hal Gill, Evgeni Malkin dug the puck off the end boards and found James Neal barreling down the slot. The big winger overpowered Price high to the glove side at 7:32 for his 28th goal of the season.
With the score knotted at 2-2 following 60 minutes of action, the game went to overtime. Fleury came up big in the extra stanza with a spectacular save on P.K. Subban at the three-minute mark to force a shootout.
In an ode to ex-Habs great Denis Savard, Malkin struck for a jaw-dropping tally during the second round of the tie-breaker. The rangy Russian steamed down the slot and abruptly wheeled in spin-o-rama fashion before tossing a backhander past a stunned Price. Six rounds later, however, Plekanec beat Fleury with a bullet of a wrister to give the home team the edge. Price stopped Jason Williams to earn the extra point for Montreal.
“It’s too bad,” Neal said. “(Fleury) was great again.”
“He’s amazing,” Zbynek Michalek said, echoing Neal’s sentiments. “It’s crazy how he can play so many games and still be this good every single night. I think he’s the best goalie in the league, by far.”
Fleury made 28 saves in losing cause … Matt Cooke paced the Pens with seven shots and four hits … Pittsburgh outshot Montreal (34-30) … The Penguins dominated in faceoffs (31-14) and hits (26-19) … Kris Letang battled Subban at the end of overtime after the Montreal defender roughed up Malkin … The Pens finished the road trip at 1-2-1 … Colin McDonald and Williams dressed in place of injured regulars Tyler Kennedy (leg) and Richard Park … Arron Asham, Sidney Crosby, Simon Despres, Kennedy, Ben Lovejoy, Park, and Jordan Staal were scratches.
The Penguins (30-19-5) are off until Saturday, when they face Winnipeg (25-24-6) in a matinee game at CONSOL Energy Center. New Jersey moved into a tie with the Pens (65 points apiece). The Pens and Devils trail second-place Philadelphia by two points in the Atlantic Division race.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.