MONTREAL – One shoulder driven into his face, one broken nose and one overtime goal.
Kris Letang shook off a crushing open-ice hit to score at 2:09 of overtime Saturday as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in Sidney Crosby’s return to Canada.
Letang’s face was splattered with blood after a bodycheck by Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty with about three minutes left in the third period.
The Montreal-born defenceman left the ice for a concussion test, but returned in time to bury a winning goal that left the Habs—and their fans—fuming.
Letang dug the puck away from Price’s glove and slid it in the net, drawing jeers from the crowd, who thought the referee should have blown the whistle.
“It just came loose on my stick—I pulled it and I shot it,” said Letang, his nose still sporting a large blood drop after the game.
Letang said he passed the tests under the league’s head-shot protocol. He also had something else to be do before heading back onto the ice.
“Obviously, my nose (was) broken, so the doc put it in place and I was ready to go,” said Letang, whose team forced overtime on forward Jordan Staal’s tying goal at 15:30 of the third period.
“(The doctor) put a pin in it—and pop. It’s not perfect yet because I want to be a model after my career.”
Pacioretty didn’t get a penalty on the play, but the NHL could take a closer look at the collision. Letang said he couldn’t comment on whether it was a dirty hit because he didn’t see it coming.
Saturday marked Crosby’s first road game since coming back last week after missing more than 10 months of NHL action with concussion-like symptoms.
It was also the first time in exactly 11 months that the 24-year-old superstar from Cole Harbour, N.S., played in Canada.
Crosby finished the game with an assist, but he made his mark early.
It took him just 21 seconds to get his name on the scoresheet with an assist on Evgeni Malkin’s goal.
The Montreal crowd roared when the announcer called out Crosby’s name before the game and when he assisted on Malkin’s opener.
But he got little love from the fans for the rest of the night.
Boos echoed in the Bell Centre a few times when he touched the puck early in the game—a greeting Canadiens fans often deliver to top players on an opposing team.
The other times he touched the puck, the crowd had no reaction at all.
Crosby, who now has two goals and six assists in four games since returning to the NHL last week, said it feels good to be back.
“It’s part of the game,” the Pens captain said of the injury that had kept him on the sidelines since January.
“Sometimes you have to go through that, but I think you just appreciate (playing hockey) that much more.
“I definitely missed it.”
Crosby’s feisty play deep in Montreal’s end frequently created problems for Habs defenceman, but Price repeatedly bailed out his young corps of blue-liners throughout the game.
Crosby’s hard work almost paid off again at 1:04 in the second period.
Crosby snatched the puck from Josh Gorges in the Habs’ zone and fired it in front of Price, where it bounced off his linemate Chris Kunitz’s arm and into the net. But the goal didn’t stand as the video-replay judge ruled that Kunitz made a forward motion with his arm before he knocked it in.
In the third period, Kunitz also put the puck—and Price—into the net on a breakaway, but the referee maintained it was not a goal because he collided with the goalie.
But it was the overtime goal that had Montreal head coach Jacques Martin steaming at the end of the game. He thought Price had the puck.
“I’m really disappointed for my players,” he said.
“I thought we competed really hard and it’s really disappointing it ended that way.”
On the Pacioretty hit on Letang, Martin was pleased the refs did not give him a penalty.
“It was a good hit,” he said.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma was happy to escape Montreal with the win and with a healthy Letang—his top-scoring defenceman.
“It made for a good story, him coming back after the hit and scoring the goal,” said Bylsma, who was surprised Pacioretty didn’t get a penalty.
“I’m glad he was able to get up.”
Staal said his teammates were worried about Letang.
“It’s not too often he lays around on the ice,” Staal said.
“But Tanger’s a tough guy, and he took his little timeout there, and he came back for us in a big way.”
In the first period, Pittsburgh came flying out of the gate.
Malkin, who had a goal and an assist, put the Penguins (14-6-4) up 1-0 by smacking his own rebound behind Price for his eighth of the season. Crosby and Kunitz earned the assists.
Montreal forward Travis Moen replied quickly with his eighth goal, tying the score at 1:48 with a wrist shot that cruised over the left shoulder of Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Habs (10-10-4) took the lead at 7:37 of the first period when Pacioretty also beat Fleury on his glove side for his 10th, after taking a pass from David Desharanis, who scooped up an Erik Cole rebound.
Cole later put the Canadiens up 3-1 with his seventh goal at 11:09 of the second period when he ripped a shot off the post and it bounced in off Fleury’s left leg. Cole and Pacioretty each finished with a goal and an assist.
Pascal Dupuis narrowed the Canadiens lead 16:40 into the second with his sixth goal. Paul Martin and Matt Cooke got the assists.
Price made numerous critical stops, including a big glove save on a James Neal one-timer in the third, but the Habs couldn’t hang on. He finished the game with 38 saves.
Notes: Habs forward Andrei Kostitsyn returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with an undisclosed injury. … Habs forward Scott Gomez missed his second game with a groin injury and defenceman Jaroslav Spacek missed his seventh game with an upper-body injury.