MONTREAL – On a night when the Montreal Canadiens learned one of their top defensemen was gone for the season, their most important defensive player had a big, bounce-back game.
Benoit Pouliot scored the tying goal in regulation and the winner in the shootout as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Thursday night.
After Pouliot gave the Canadiens the lead with a beautiful, one-handed goal, Carey Price stopped Chris Kunitz to seal the win, then stood with his arms crossed in celebration.
Price was superb, making 31 saves just hours after General Manager Pierre Gauthier announced that defenseman Josh Gorges would be out for the rest of the season with a right knee injury.
"It was just working out details, like I said during the week," Price said in explaining his sharp performance. "I thought that was an excellent week to get some work in (practice) and it paid off. But the guys played great tonight, we played really well defensively."
The Canadiens became the last team in the League to get to a shootout, and Pouliot won it in style. Chosen as his team's fifth shooter, he came in for a deke to his forehand before pulling the puck back and sliding it past Brent Johnson with one hand on his stick.
"We practice it maybe once a week, but it's not the same when you have 20,000 fans screaming at you," Pouliot said. "It was a junior thing I used to do in Sudbury (Ontario), so I figured I may as well try it out and see what happens. It worked out."
The Canadiens (22-16-3) got their second win in three games (2-0-1), matching their total in their previous 10 contests.
Arron Asham scored and Johnson made 22 saves for the Penguins (26-12-4), who sat starter Marc-Andre Fleury after he played in Wednesday's 8-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"He was outstanding," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Johnson. "He was very good in the shootout until Pouliot's great goal."
Crosby wasn't in the Bell Centre. Pittsburgh's captain and the NHL's leading scorer was sent home to be examined for what the Penguins said afterward was a concussion sustained on Wednesday.
That left the burden of offensive leadership on the shoulders of Evgeni Malkin. He didn't disappoint, generating a number of chances, but he was foiled by Price on every one.
Malkin also gave the Penguins a scare late in the third period when he went down awkwardly after taking a hit from Scott Gomez. Malkin stayed down for a few moments, tried getting up and went down again, putting no weight on his left leg. He eventually got up and made his way to the bench.
Malkin took another shift in the final minute of regulation and another in overtime but was clearly laboring. Malkin also had the game on his stick as the third shooter in the shootout, but pushed his shot softly into Price's pad after the goalie didn't go for his deke.
Malkin missed four games earlier this season with a left knee injury -- and with Crosby out, losing him would be a particularly nasty blow.
But Bylsma's not too concerned.
"The first indication is that he's good," Bylsma said. "He went to the ice hard there, he had two guys that were part of taking him down and he fell hard. But he appears to be just fine."
Price was starting to feel some heat in Montreal for a dip in his performance -- one that had seen him post a 2-7-1 record with an .870 save percentage in his previous 10 starts.
But he was strong when he needed to be in this one, particularly in the first period after allowing Asham to open the scoring on Pittsburgh's third shot of the game at 2:14 of the first. Price kept the Canadiens in it as they allowed the Penguins to completely dominate the opening 20 minutes, spending long stretches of it in the Montreal zone.
The Canadiens were also shorthanded, playing their fifth game without Gorges and top shutdown defenseman Roman Hamrlik.
"He's definitely one of our key guys in here, he's a vocal voice," Price said of his good friend Gorges. "He's one of our leaders, he's going to be missed for sure."
Pouliot got the Canadiens even at 12:26 of the second period. With the game tied 1-1 midway through the third, the Penguins gave the Canadiens a big chance to take the lead by taking three overlapping penalties -- two of them for delay of game.
"We took the penalties, we shot them over the glass and those are penalties," Bylsma said. "You just would have liked to get the same opportunity, but those don't always come your way."
That gave Montreal 3:46 of power-play time, with two full minutes at 5-on-3 in the middle of it, but the Canadiens generated only one shot on goal in that span.
"They did a good job taking away our two shooters," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. "In those situations, you've got to move the puck down low, have a net presence then move it out to change your options."
The overtime period was no more enthralling, with the Canadiens outshooting the Penguins 1-0 and neither teams generating many chances. The best one was probably Michael Cammalleri's, but he missed the far post when he was open in the slot for a shot.
But when it came down to the shootout, the player the Canadiens need to be their best was just that.
"I just tried to stay quiet and tried to make them make the first move," Price said. "If they were going to score, just make them make a really good move or get one off the post and in. Tonight they weren't able to do that."