MONTREAL – Going to the shootout has been a sure sign of defeat for the Montreal Canadiens this season, just as it has been a pretty good indicator of a victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But the tables were turned Tuesday night thanks to the Canadiens shooters finally connecting and goaltender Carey Price coming up big when he had to.
Tomas Plekanec scored in the eighth round of the shootout and Price stopped minor league call-up Jason Williams to preserve a 3-2 Canadiens victory against the Penguins.
It was a showdown of one of the League’s best shootout teams against one of the worst, as the Penguins fell to 7-3 in the tiebreaker this season while it was just the Canadiens' second victory in nine attempts.
Montreal entered the shootout having scored just four goals on 23 attempts this season. The Canadiens shooters nearly doubled that total in one night with Rene Bourque and Lars Eller also scoring on Marc-Andre Fleury, who had allowed four goals on 25 shootout attempts all season coming in.
For Plekanec, it was a nice reward for Price because he hasn't had much support from Canadiens shooters this season.
"He was great," Plekanec said. "Finally, we were able to pay him back."
Price made 32 saves and Louis Leblanc and Eller scored goals in regulation for the Canadiens (21-24-9), who won a second straight game.
Habs coach Randy Cunneyworth thinks the quality of the opponent had a big role to play in how his team performed.
"I think more than anything, it's about pride," he said. "On nights when you're playing top teams, if you're not at your best, you will be embarrassed by them. I think that's what keeps you on top of your game."
James Neal scored on an assist from NHL points leader Evgeni Malkin while Pascal Dupuis also scored in regulation for the Penguins (30-19-5), who have one win in their last four games (1-2-1) and have scored just six goals in that span.
"I don't think over the last five or six games we've really played a dominating type of game how we like to play in the offensive zone," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "Playing there allows our team to get more chances at the net, but it's been more of a 50-50 type of game. Tonight again the shots are relatively equal at the end, only in the third period did we get a period where we out-chance, out-shoot them and play in the offensive zone. We need more of that from our team to get the offensive opportunities to win a game."
Fleury was outstanding in goal for the Penguins with 28 saves, though he allowed a weak one on Eller's long shot in the third to hand the Canadiens back the lead after Dupuis had just tied it.
"He had four or five really big saves, really good scoring chances by their team," Bylsma said. "He made a number of huge saves for us and really stood strong. It was an unfortunate goal for the second one, but he played a very good game."
The shootout featured a beautiful spin-o-rama goal by Malkin and a goal by Chris Kunitz in the fifth round that kept Pittsburgh alive. There were also two goalposts by Penguins shooters Cal O'Reilly and Dupuis.
After Dupuis hit the post, Price looked up at the sky in gratitude.
"I had to thank the big man upstairs on that one," Price said.
Overtime ended with some fireworks as a game-long battle between Subban and Malkin flared up, with Kristopher Letang deciding he’d seen enough and taking a run at Subban as the horn sounded.
"It's certainly a part of our makeup as a team," Bylsma said. "We're going to get in there for a teammate."
The Canadiens lost defenseman Yannick Weber at 3:48 of overtime after he took a hit from Kunitz. Weber had to be helped off the ice.
After Fleury denied a number of quality chances, including breakaways by Plekanec and Bourque, the Canadiens finally got one by him at 11:21 of the second on a very heady play by the rookie Leblanc. Andrei Kostitsyn chipped a puck in Leblanc's direction at the Penguins blue line and Leblanc caught it to go in on a partial break and beat Fleury to the glove hand for his third of the season.
Fleury made certain the score remained 1-0 going into the second intermission with an outstanding save on Erik Cole with a little under two minutes remaining, stacking the pads and getting a glove on a rebound attempt.
Montreal opened the third period on a power play after a Craig Adams tripping call deep in the Canadiens end, but it was the Penguins who capitalized when Joe Vitale's centering pass went in off Dupuis' skate at 1:03 for his 12th of the season and second shorthanded.
After Eller's long shot bounced off the far post and off Fleury's behind and in at 3:00 for his 11th of the season, the Malkin-Neal combination finally emerged with Malkin finding his favorite target in the slot for Neal's 28th of the season at 7:32 of the third.
"We came out with a huge play to get the goal, and getting the goal and the kill really energized our team," Bylsma said. "A lot of that period is the way we want to play, we did a lot of good things, played at that pace, played in the offensive zone and that's how we end up getting that tying goal."