MONTREAL – Evgeni Malkin continues to pile up points and the Pittsburgh Penguins keep on winning games.
Malkin scored the tying goal on a breakaway and had two assists and Sergei Gonchar got the game-winner in the third period as the Penguins rebounded after a blowing a lead to defeat the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 on Thursday night. “We got behind but we stuck to our game plan and it worked,” said Gonchar.
Ryan Whitney, Jarkko Ruutu and Ryan Malone had the other goals for Pittsburgh (35-21-5), which won its third game in a row. Malkin’s three-point performance increased his league-leading point total to 82.
The Penguins moved into a tie with Montreal and New Jersey with 75 points – one behind Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa.
Pittsburgh is now 9-4-2 since star centre Sidney Crosby has been out with a high ankle sprain – a run that started when goalie Dany Sabourin shut out the Canadiens 2-0 in Montreal on Jan. 19.
“We’re a little surprised,” said Malone. “We’ve had a lot of injuries and a lot of players called up from Wilkes-Barre, but it shows the depth on our team.
“When Sid returns, it’ll be a big boost for us.”
Malkin has 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) over that span, with 24 of those coming in his past 10 games.
“I’m not surprised,” Gonchar said of Malkin. “He’s getting the ice time and he’s playing up to his potential.”
Goals by Michael Ryder and Roman Hamrlik early in the third period gave Montreal a 4-3 lead after having earlier trailed 3-1. Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins also scored for Montreal (33-20-9), which ended a season-high four-game winning run.
The Canadiens, coming off a rousing comeback from a 5-0 deficit to beat the New York Rangers on Tuesday, had no such miracles this time for the sellout crowd of 21,273.
Coach Guy Carbonneau was upset with defensive errors in his own end and spotty goaltending from Cristobal Huet.
“We said our goaltending has to be excellent for the rest of the season,” he said. “Now we’ve given up five goals in each of the last two games.”
He also said his team has been getting too many pats on the back for being near the top of the conference.
“We win three in a row and people think the Stanley Cup parade is on,” added Carbonneau. “If they’re going to play here, they better get used to that.
“I tell them: if we win, you enjoy it and then you forget about it and get back to work. In Montreal, that’s what you have to do.”
Trailing 3-2 going into the third period, Ryder tied the score after only 21 seconds when he came around from behind the net and slid a shot that went in off Sabourin’s skate for his fourth goal in three games.
Hamrlik trailed in to take a Koivu pass and beat Sabourin with a wrist shot on a power play at 3:25.
But Malkin sneaked behind the Montreal defence to take a pass from Malone and score on a breakaway at 10:22. Just 36 seconds later, Gonchar’s point shot beat Huet during a power play.
It was Gonchar’s 600th NHL point and gave him an eighth straight 50-point season, highest among active defencemen.
“Not bad, eh?” Gonchar said with a smile. “When you’ve been in the league for a while, it happens, I guess.
“I played with really good players in Washington and here, and I stayed healthy, which is probably the biggest thing.”
The Penguins have talked about slow starts of late and this time they did something about it, taking a 2-0 first-period lead.
Whitney took a drop pass from Malkin and saw his wrist shot from the point go in off Mathieu Dandenault’s stick 6:46 into the game. An Andrei Markov turnover allowed Ruutu to get in front and put a shot in off a defenceman at 18:47.
Sergei Kostitsyn hustled to beat Darryl Sydor to a puck behind the Pittsburgh net and feed Koivu for a goal 3:27 into the second frame.
Malone restored the two-goal lead on a power play when he jumped on a loose puck in front of Huet and banged in his third in the past two games at 6:59.
Higgins got it back on a power play at 18:07 when he redirected in an Alex Kovalev pass.
Notes – Montreal forward Steve Begin sat out with a groin injury. He’s listed as day-to-day. Tom Kostopoulos and Patrice Brisebois were scratched and Bryan Smolinski returned after sitting out two games. … Crosby is expected to be out two more weeks. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is due back any day from an AHL rehab stint.