PITTSBURGH (AP) - Playing their fifth game in seven nights and coming off two emotional wins against their national rivals, the Montreal Canadiens were facing the classic "trap game" scenario against the team with the NHL's worst record.
But Montreal didn't fall for the trap, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-5 on Sunday night to avoid being swept in the season series.
"We've got to be happy with the two points," forward Radek Bonk said. "We had a lot of games this week and to get two points in the last game is huge."
Chris Higgins and Alex Kovalev each had two goals, and Saku Koivu had three assists for the Canadiens, who have won three in a row and four of five to move into a seventh-place tie with the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference standings.
"We were a little tired but it was a big week for us," Higgins said. "When we looked at the schedule, we sat down as a team and decided we wanted to pick up as many points as we could because there's a lot of riding on every game we play right now."
Colby Armstrong had two goals, and Sidney Crosby added two assists for the Penguins, who also got a goal from Noah Welch - his first in the NHL.
Montreal split games with the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders on Monday and Tuesday, and the Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in back-to-back contests Thursday and Saturday nights.
"Keeping the same emotion and energy we had against Toronto definitely was hard to do," Kovalev said. "But it's something we had to try to do because we still need to play better and better each night to make the playoffs."
Higgins' first goal came on a power play 4:24 into the game off assists from Michael Ryder and Koivu.
Radek Bonk scored 31 seconds later and the Canadiens, who were 0-3 against the Penguins this season, took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. From there, the teams alternated goals.
"We wanted to get a good start, but I don't think we've had the best first period the last couple of games," Crosby said. "I'm sure it's something we thought about a little bit more, knowing the intensity they were going to play with being an important game for them. We knew they were going to play hard. I think we just tried to match that."
Armstrong scored his first on the power play 41 seconds into the second period, but Higgins netted his 16th 2:33 later. Armstrong also had a short-handed goal that brought Pittsburgh to 4-3 later in the contest.
Tomas Surovy cut the Penguins' deficit to 3-2 with a power-play goal. He converted his third whack at a puck in front of goalie David Aebischer.
Kovalev scored the first of his two second-period, power-play goals less than 5 minutes after that.
"They were down and they came back," Bonk said. "Give them credit; they work hard."
Playing in his second career game, Welch had his second assist. He also put the puck in the net twice - but the first was into his own cage.
Kovalev was credited with his second of the game with 20 seconds to go in the second period when his centering pass from behind the goal line was deflected by Welch into the top left corner of the net past Marc-Andre Fleury to give Montreal a 5-3 lead.
"It's unfortunate, but it was an honest mistake," Welch said. "I was anxious as a defensive player to clear the puck into the corner, so I just reacted to quick. It was on my mind to create a scoring chance or get an assist (to make up for the self goal) and I was just happy to get that first goal."
Welch's legitimate goal 1:39 into the final period when his shot from the left point got through traffic. The official scorers took an extended amount of time to see if it was tipped on its way in, but Welch - who made his debut Friday against the New York Islanders - was given credit for his first goal.
Armstrong had a hat trick negated when it was ruled he intentionally directed a puck into the net with his hand with about 12 minutes to play.
"They scored some power play goals on us early and that definitely hurt us," Armstrong said. "We battled back and we were right there. I think we had our chances, but we fell asleep a little bit in the first there. It's too bad we got so close to tie it up (but couldn't)."
Ryder and Pittsburgh's John LeClair traded goals late.
"It wasn't pretty," said Aebischer. "But it was two points."
The Penguins, who are 41-104-23 against Montreal, have never swept a season series from the Canadiens.
"It just shows how competitive this league is that anyone is good enough to beat anyone on any night," Koivu said. We talked about how we had lost to them three times already and we didn't want that to happen again. These two points are just as important as two points we get from Toronto or anyone else."
Notes: Koivu has at least one assist in three consecutive games. Higgins, Ryder, Sheldon Souray, Bonk and Mathieu Dandenault also extended scoring streaks to three games. ... Pittsburgh D Sergei Gonchar has 24 points in his last 23 games. ... The only times the Penguins didn't lose a game in a season series against the Canadiens were 1992-93 and 1998-99, when they went 2-0-1 and 3-0-1. ... The Carolina Hurricanes are the only Eastern Conference team Montreal has not beaten this season.
|PPG - Chris Higgins (15) ASST: Saku Koivu (36), Michael Ryder (20)|
1 - 0 MTL
|Radek Bonk (5) ASST: Niklas Sundstrom (9), Mark Streit (7)|
2 - 0 MTL
|PPG - Colby Armstrong (11) ASST: Sidney Crosby (47), Sergei Gonchar (37)|
2 - 1 MTL
|Chris Higgins (16) ASST: Saku Koivu (37), Sheldon Souray (23)|
3 - 1 MTL
|PPG - Tomas Surovy (11) ASST: Michel Ouellet (14), Noah Welch (2)|
3 - 2 MTL
|PPG - Alex Kovalev (19) ASST: Mark Streit (8), Richard Zednik (14)|
4 - 2 MTL
|SHG - Colby Armstrong (12) ASST: Andy Hilbert (7)|
4 - 3 MTL
|PPG - Alex Kovalev (20) ASST: NONE|
5 - 3 MTL
|Noah Welch (1) ASST: Josef Melichar (10), Sidney Crosby (48)|
5 - 4 MTL
|Michael Ryder (28) ASST: Mathieu Dandenault (14), Saku Koivu (38)|
6 - 4 MTL
|John Leclair (17) ASST: Konstantin Koltsov (3), Ryan Malone (18)|
6 - 5 MTL
|Tomas Surovy Holding against Alex Kovalev|
|Ryan Whitney Hooking against Steve Begin|
|Garth Murray Hooking against Tomas Surovy|
|Alex Kovalev Hooking against John Leclair|
|Jan Bulis Hooking against Sidney Crosby|
|Tomas Surovy Holding against Richard Zednik|
|Ryan Whitney Hooking against Garth Murray|
|Tomas Surovy Hooking|
|Shane Endicott Tripping against Jan Bulis|
|Sheldon Souray Fighting (maj) against Ryan Malone|
|Ryan Malone Fighting (maj) against Sheldon Souray|
|Richard Zednik Hooking against Jani Rita|
|Sergei Gonchar Interference against Chris Higgins|