Every NHL win earns a team two points, but the Montreal Canadiens' latest victory may turn out to be worth considerably more.
Tied for the Eastern Conference lead, the Canadiens look to win their fifth straight and provide an encore to the biggest comeback in franchise history when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.
Montreal (33-19-9) is the NHL's oldest organization, yet since being founded in 1909, had never won a game when trailing by five goals. That changed Tuesday, when the Canadiens rallied from a 5-0 second-period deficit against the New York Rangers, evening the score late in the third and winning 6-5 in a shootout.
"To be honest, last season this team probably packs it in after falling behind like that," coach Guy Carbonneau told the team's official Web site. "This just shows what kind of character we have in this dressing room."
|Two of the Eastern Conference's top teams will square off tonight as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Bell Centre to face the Montreal Canadiens. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)|
It was Montreal's fourth victory in a row and second straight at the Bell Centre over an Atlantic Division opponent, following a 1-0 win over Philadelphia on Saturday.
A win against Pittsburgh (34-21-5), which is in a tight battle with the Canadiens, New Jersey and Ottawa for the top spot in the East, would give Montreal five consecutive victories for the first time this season.
Home wins, however, haven't always come easy this season for the Canadiens. On Dec. 18, they were 6-7-4 on home ice, but are 8-3-1 since.
"What else can you say about these fans?" said forward Alex Kovalev, who scored his team-leading 28th and 29th goals of the season against the Rangers, his former team. "Hearing all that cheering energizes me and it makes me want to give even more back to the fans."
Kovalev, who scored 149 goals in parts of five seasons with Pittsburgh, has four goals and three assists in his last four games. He has four goals and four assists in 10 games against the Penguins since joining the Canadiens in 2003, but just one goal in three meetings this season.
The Penguins didn't quite equal Montreal's historic comeback Tuesday, but they still earned an impressive come-from-behind victory. They trailed Florida 2-0 at home after two periods, but scored three times in the third and won 3-2.
Ryan Malone scored the last two goals - his 18th and 19th on the season - including the winner with 23 seconds left.
"Off the bat, for whatever reason, it takes us a while to get going and sooner or later that might come back to bite us," said Malone, who has 11 points in his past nine games. "But right now, we're happy with the two points."
Malone has been hot, but linemate Evgeni Malkin has been playing on a level unmatched by anyone in the league the past month. He had two assists Tuesday to extend his point streak to nine games, during which he's recorded seven goals and 14 assists.
Malkin had a goal in Pittsburgh's first trip to Montreal this season, a 2-0 Penguins win Jan. 19. That was the team's first game after captain Sidney Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain, and Malkin has piled up 27 points in the 14 games since, taking over the NHL points lead (79) after Tuesday's action.
"I'm pretty tired right now, so I don't really care about that," Malkin said. "(But) it's great if my name is in the paper more."
Malkin has three goals and eight assists in seven games against Montreal.