Every Saturday night game at the Bell Centre is filled with energy, but when the opposition is the Pittsburgh Penguins featuring a newly returned Sidney Crosby, who was participating in only his fourth game back after nearly 11 months off due to a concussion, the electricity is off the charts.
Both teams had played the night before. Pittsburgh was coming off a win versus Ottawa and Montreal was coming off a loss (3-1) versus Philadelphia. This was the second meeting of the season between the two Eastern Conference teams.
Crosby was not the only one making a comeback (of sorts) on this evening. Montreal’s talented but highly inconsistent winger Andrei Kostitsyn would be playing his first game after missing 10 with a groin injury. His return to the line up comes at an opportune time as veteran centreman Scott Gomez was going back on the injury list as he had reaggravated his lower body injury.
Both teams started the game with their number one lines. Pittsburgh sent out the Crosby-Evgeni Malkin-Chris Kunitz line and Jacques Martin countered with Tomas Plekanec-Michael Cammalleri-Brian Gionta trio. Pittsburgh had the early (and I mean early) advantage with a delayed penalty about to be called. No need as Malkin scored a mere 0:21 seconds in.
Early goal and one that Carey Price did not look good on. Double whammy. But have no fear as the Habs rectified both things. Just over one minute later Montreal’s sniper extraordinaire (a little bit of a joke) Travis Moen scored his 8th goal of the season (already more than he scored all of last year) on a wrist shot that found the top corner on Marc-André Fleury’s glove side.
The game began with a great pace. Both teams had several good scoring chances. The second problem, Price’s play, was also shown to not be a worry for Habs’ fans either as he was stellar throughout the rest of the game. Pittsburgh directed 42 shots at the Montreal net and Price was more than up to the challenge. He made big save after big save. On James Neal, on Malkin (several times) and others.
While the Plekanec line was being outplayed by the Crosby line, the David Desharnais-Eric Cole-Max Pacioretty one was creating chances every time they were out there. With Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta both going through rough patches the true number one line on the Habs for the past half dozen games has been the Desharnais-Cole-Pacioretty line. They put the Habs ahead at 7:37 of the 1st period. A great pass by Desharnais, who keeps demonstrating his great vision on the ice, to Pacioretty then another wrist shot that beat Fleury high on the glove side on Fleury.
Chances kept coming for the trio and Fleury was forced into making three big saves off Eric Cole in the 1st period alone. The third coming on a breakaway after Cole forced a turnover in the neutral zone. Cole is a hard man to contain due to his combination of size and speed. He is creating plenty of chances due to the combo. He had four shots on goal in the 1st period.
An apparent Kunitz goal was waved off after review because he had directed it beyond Price with his glove, Montreal extended their lead courtesy of…you guessed it…the Desharnais-Cole-Pacioretty line. This time it was Cole (his 7th of the year) with assists going to Pacioretty and PK Subban. Cole’s shot hit the post then hit Fleury before sliding over the line. 11 of the 16 shots the Canadiens directed at Fleury over the first two periods came courtesy of the Desharnais line.
Pittsburgh got one back in the 2nd courtesy of Pascal Dupuis. It was now a 3-2 tight game leading everyone to believe that this was going to be some kind of 3rd period. Both coaches continued matching lines like it was a chess match. The Canadiens came close to regaining their two goal lead when Yannick Weber’s backhand hit the crossbar off a scramble in front of the Pittsburgh net.
The Habs had another bit of good luck when a second apparent Pittsburgh goal was disallowed. Kunitz was the victim again when his shorthanded goal was blown off by the ref due to the whistle being blown before the puck crossed the line.
Montreal’s luck ran out when Pittsburgh was finally able to score the tying goal late in the 3rd. Centreman Jordan Staal jumped off the bench on a line change and was somehow forgotten by the Habs. Malkin found the streaking Staal with a tape to tape pass that sent him in alone on Price. Staal was able to beat the stellar Price with a precise shot that not many goaltenders would have been able to stop.
After Pittsburgh tied the game something happened late in the game that might lead to Pacioretty being suspended by the NHL’s disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan. Penguins’ defenceman Kris Letang crossed the Canadiens blue line and began to unleash a shot when Pacioretty caught him with a check that broke Letang’s nose. There was no penalty on the play, but it was whistled dead as Letang hit the ground hard and blood was everywhere. He left the game for the dressing room.
We were going to overtime. Letang came back (with a bloody uniform) to play in the overtime. This is important to mention as he scored the overtime goal that won the game 4-3 for the Penguins. It wasn’t exactly a clean goal to say the least. The puck was at the side of the net, then underneath Price’s right pad and then finally underneath his glove for at least a couple of seconds. For some reason the referee, who was on the other side of the net and must have lost sight of the puck, did not blow the play dead and Pittsburgh was able to poke the put out from under Price’s trapper allowing Letang to slide it into the empty net.
Price was furious! He broke his stick on the post and then threw it across the ice. His rage grew when he saw the replay on the jumbo screen. No matter as the goal counted. No going to Toronto to save them on this one.
On the bright side Montreal was able to get 1 point off the strongest team in the Eastern Conference and moved to only 1 point out of a playoff position. It was too bad the way it ended, however. Too bad a controversial goal decided what was an excellent game for both sides.
Montreal is back on the road to play each of the California teams. First up is Saku Koivu and the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Dan O’Rourke and Mike Hasenfratz
Linesmen: Tim Nowak and Brian Murphy
-Goals: 1st Period:
0:21: Pittsburgh – Evgeni Malkin assisted by Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz
1:48: Montreal – Travis Moen unassisted
7:37: Montreal – Max Pacioretty assisted by David Desharnais and Eric Cole
11:09: Montreal – Eric Cole assisted by PK Subban and Max Pacioretty
16:40: Pittsburgh – Pascal Dupuis assisted by Paul Martin and Matt Cooke
15:30: Pittsburgh – Jordan Staal assisted by Evgeni Malkin
2:09: Pittsburgh – Kris Letang assisted by James Neal and Deryk Engelland
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 27
-3 Stars: 1) Kris Letang – Pittsburgh Penguins
2) Eric Cole – Montreal Canadiens
3) Carey Price – Montreal Canadiens
-Final Score: Montreal: 3
Pittsburgh: 4 (OT)