Game 45 Recap: Pittsburgh 5, Montreal 2
Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury did not play in that game, but judging by his actions following Wednesday’s rematch, he took Price’s hip-hop posturing to heart.
Behind a season-high four power-play goals and 20 saves from Fleury, who defiantly mimicked Price’s petulant pose after the final horn, the Penguins (27-14-4, 58 points) halted a three-game losing skein with a 5-2 win in Montreal.
The Habs had beaten the Pens four straight times, including Games Six and Seven of their second-round playoff series last May and a 2-1 shootout decision last week. Three-point nights from Alex Goligoski, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang ensured the head-to-head streak wouldn’t reach five.
Montreal (24-17-3, 51 points) actually took a 2-1 lead on David Desharnais’ first goal of the season early in the second period, only to watch Pittsburgh notch the next four tallies. The Penguins earned their first win without captain and NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby, who has now missed four straight games with a concussion.
The Penguins’ strong closing push was keyed by Staal, whose late penalty Monday night against Boston led to the Bruins’ game-winning goal. The 6-foot-4 center had yet to register a point in his first five matches of the season after recovering from foot and hand injuries, but that would change soon after Desharnais gave Montreal its only lead.
With Pittsburgh on its first power play, Staal’s clean faceoff win directly led to Tyler Kennedy’s tying goal, a one-timer from the left circle. Staal then notched his long-awaited first goal with 11 seconds left in the second, stealing Jaroslav Spacek’s clearing attempt and gunning a wrister under Price for a 3-2 advantage heading for the third.
Goligoski crashed the net to collect his second score of the game 2:33 into the final frame, making it 4-2, and Kunitz finished the Canadiens by deflecting Letang’s slap shot past Price’s glove just past the period’s midway point.
Each of the Penguins’ final four goals came on the power play, quite the deluge for a unit ranked 21st in the league, especially since it was competing against the Canadiens’ top-rated penalty kill. Pittsburgh’s previous season best for power play success was three goals, achieved in Columbus Dec. 4 and Dec. 20 against Phoenix.
Pittsburgh grabbed its first win since last Wednesday’s 8-1 shellacking of Tampa Bay despite Evgeni Malkin failing to score for the sixth time in his last eight games. He is currently projected for only 65 points, which would be 12 points fewer than last season and a career low.
Goligoski blasted a perfect shot past Price in the first to give the Penguins the first goal, only to watch the Habs tie the game less than a minute later and go ahead in the opening moments of the second. However, Kennedy’s quick release surprised Price to tie the game, and when Staal converted a delicious Montreal turnover into a power-play goal in the final minute of the second, it seemed the Penguins were on their way to reversing their recent negative trend.
Black and Gold Man of the Match:
Although Goligoski netted his first two-goal game of the season and Letang was his usual dynamic self, the game puck on this night belongs to Staal. The familiar Kennedy-Staal-Cooke line skated together for the second-straight contest, and Staal powered the trio to a dominant performance. With Malkin still flagging and Crosby sitting out, the burden of expectations will continue to fall on Staal’s wide shoulders.
Give a Stick Tap To:
Center Tomas Plekanec has long been an underappreciated cog in the Canadiens’ machine. Now in his sixth season out of the Czech Republic, the 5-foot-10 Plekanec scored the tying goal in the first period and logged significant time both shorthanded (3:59) and on the power play (1:47). He also took a team-high 24 faceoffs, winning 11.
“Flower played really well tonight and he’s kind of a jokester in the dressing room so I wasn’t really surprised.” – Penguins forward Jordan Staal on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury mocking Carey Price’s cross-armed celebration after the game
The Penguins will enjoy two days off following the satisfying win over Montreal, then will take the ice at TD Garden in Boston (23-12-7, 53 points) Saturday at 1 p.m. Can the Black and Gold gain a measure of revenge for the Northeast-leading Bruins’ stunning Monday night comeback in Pittsburgh?
Read more Pittsburgh Penguins recaps and columns from Matt Gajtka at www.sportshaze.com/pittsburgh.