MONTREAL –Kris Letang did the unthinkable Saturday night: He upstaged Sidney Crosby in his first game in Canada in nearly a year.
But when a player has his nose broken on a questionable hit late in the third period, goes back to the dressing room to have a doctor place a pin in it and pop it back in place, then returns to the bench in time to start overtime, it's pretty compelling stuff.
Add in the fact Letang not only played in overtime, but scored the game-winner at 2:09 to cap a late-game comeback and give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 4-3 win against the Montreal Canadiens, and you have some pretty good movie script material.
"He put a pin in it and -- pock," Letang explained in French in the dressing room, making a sound effect to describe his nose being popped back in place. "It's not perfect yet, because I want to be a model at the end of my career."
He was quite the showman in this one, stealing his captain's thunder on a night where Crosby played for the first time in his native Canada since Dec. 26, 2010, and took the ice in Montreal against his boyhood team for the first time since Game 6 of the second round of the 2010 playoffs.
Crosby, of course, has had more than his fair share of the spotlight since returning from a concussion with a four-point debut Nov. 21 against the New York Islanders, so he had no problem sharing it with Letang on this night.
"I was really happy for Tanger to come back after that hit," Crosby said. "It shows a lot of guts. We're all happy that he's OK, first of all, but for him to respond like that is pretty amazing."
Letang was left bloodied on the ice when he was checked in the head by Montreal forward Max Pacioretty with 3:14 to play in regulation and went back to the dressing room for repairs.
But he was back on the ice to start the overtime, and he got the winner at 2:09 of the extra frame on a play that had Canadiens goaltender Carey Price so incensed, he smashed his stick on his goal post before leaving the ice in disgust.
While Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was puzzled as to why no penalty was called on the play that broke Letang's nose, he could appreciate the storybook nature of the finish.
"It made for a good story, him coming back after the hit and scoring the goal," Bylsma said. "He's shooting the puck, it was from a bad angle, the blind side, and certainly I think it's a hit they're going to look at."
The irony of the hit is that it was delivered by Pacioretty, who himself launched a charitable foundation to raise money for concussion research after his own scary meeting with a Bell Centre stanchion caused him to miss the final two months of last season with a broken vertebra and a concussion.
Pacioretty made a point of apologizing to Letang on the ice and was relieved to see he was all right.
"I told him I'm sorry and I was glad he was back," Pacioretty said. "I've been down that road; it's a terrible feeling. I know they're probably going to want something to be done, but I haven't seen the replay so I don't know."
The Canadiens were absolutely livid about how Letang's heroic goal came to pass. Price believed he had the puck frozen against his pad before Letang poked it out and put it home for his third of the season.
"I had the (expletive) thing covered is what I had, and they didn't blow the whistle and they poked it out," Price said. "Rammed it right out from underneath me and put it in the net. That's how that went down."
Price said the fact the Canadiens went toe-to-toe with the mighty Penguins made that goal even tougher to take.
"We slugged it out with the best team in the NHL for 60-plus minutes, we can take that out of it," Price said. "But it's really frustrating to lose that way."
Crosby wasted no time getting on the scoresheet, assisting on Evgeni Malkin's goal just 21 seconds after the opening faceoff -- a bizarre one that saw Malkin's original shot bounce off both posts behind Price and land right back on Malkin's stick for a tap-in.
It was Crosby's lone point of the night, but Bylsma said that did nothing to take away from what his captain accomplished over his 20:55 of ice time, by far the most of his four games so far.
"A lot of that game, whether he ends up on the scoresheet or not, is some pretty incredible hockey," Bylsma said.
Montreal responded just 1:27 later when Travis Moen's goal began a string of three straight for the Canadiens (10-10-4).
The Penguins (14-6-4) ran their record to 3-1-0 since Crosby returned from a concussion with a four-point debut Nov. 21 against the Islanders.
It's not often that the partisan Bell Centre crowd will acknowledge an opponent, but when Crosby's name was announced in the Penguins starting lineup it drew a healthy cheer from the sellout crowd of 21,273. There aren't too many players in the NHL who could say they benefited from the same treatment.
But it didn't carry over into the game.
"You always know you're playing against both them and the crowd (in Montreal), it's always a good test," Crosby said. "So it's nice when you get the result you want."
Penguins forward Chris Kunitz had two goals that would have tied the game called back on him.
The first was at 1:04 of the second when Crosby beat Josh Gorges to a puck in the Canadiens end and quickly threw it in front. The puck bounced off P.K. Subban and up in the air towards Kunitz, who made a punching motion to swat the puck in. The goal was originally allowed on the ice, but the call was reversed on video review.
With Pittsburgh down 3-2 early in the third, Kunitz was sprung on a shorthanded breakaway but his original shot was stopped by Price. Kunitz then came into contact with Price's leg, forcing the puck in the net, but the goal was immediately waved off.
Pacioretty scored Montreal's second goal of the game at 7:37 of the first period and the Canadiens went up 3-1 at 11:09 of the second on Cole's seventh of the season, but Pittsburgh's Pascal Dupuis responded with his sixth on a turnaround slapper from the slot at 16:40 of the second.
The Canadiens' struggling power play had two opportunities in the third to get an insurance goal but failed to do so, although Yannick Weber did hit the goal post on the first of those power plays.
It came back to bite them when Jordan Staal snuck behind Weber and was sent in alone by Malkin, beating Price with a nifty shot under the crossbar for his 12th of the season at 15:30 of the third period to tie the score.
1 - 0 PIT
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 MTL
3 - 1 MTL
3 - 2 MTL
3 - 3 Tie
4 - 3 PIT
Holding the stick