MONTREAL-- On a night when they outshot, out-chanced, and at times even outplayed the Penguins, the Canadiens were unable to outscore Pittsburgh in a 5-4 loss Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens (31-26-9) dropped their third straight game, but remain in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 71 points, thanks to a little help from the Flyers who downed the ninth-place Thrashers to keep Atlanta one point back. The Penguins (17-38-12) remained perfect against the Canadiens on the season with their third win in as many games.
Despite firing a season-high 46 shots on their way to doubling the Penguins in the shot department, and fighting back from an early 2-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead, the Canadiens were unable to put Pittsburgh away. Sorel's own Marc-Andre Fleury had a hand in that by turning aside 42-of-46 shots, including the last 23 pucks he faced.
"Their goalie made some big saves and we took some costly penalties, but that's still no excuse," said captain Saku Koivu. "We didn't play as well as we should have and that's just not acceptable."
In search of his first win since joining the Canadiens, David Aebischer allowed five goals on 23 shots in his second straight start for Montreal.
Already without blue line anchor Andrei Markov, who missed his third straight game due to back spasms, the news got even worse on the Canadiens' injury front with Francis Bouillon leaving the game early in the second period with a left leg injury after crashing awkwardly into the end boards.
Bouillon's defensive partner Mathieu Dandenault didn't have to be reminded that the Canadiens are quickly running out of time in their chase for a playoff spot with only 16 games remaining on their schedule.
"This is a really tough one to swallow," admitted Dandenault. "At this stage of the season, we need all the points we can get. We sat back too much early in the game, got a little sloppy and they capitalized on our mistakes."
Sheldon Souray scored both of Montreal's power-play goals after blasting a pair of slap shots past Fleury for his eighth and ninth goals of the year. Souray is, after all, no stranger to big games against the Penguins. In addition to piling up more career points against the Penguins than any other team with 14, Souray's most explosive night of his NHL career also came in Pittsburgh. With six-points (1-5-6) in an 8-0 win over the Penguins at Mellon Arena on Jan. 10, 2004, Souray tied a club record for both assists and points in a game by a defenseman.
Also scoring for the Canadiens were Garth Murray and Jan Bulis, who celebrated his 28th birthday by scoring his 17th of the season, shattering his career-high set in 2002-03.
Scoring goals for the Penguins were: Eric Boguniecki, Ryan Malone, Andre Roy, Ryan Whitney and former Canadien John LeClair, who also added a pair assists to reach the 800-point mark. After almost single-handedly leading the Penguins to each of their two pervious victories over Montreal this season, rookie sensation Sidney Crosby was held to only one assist.
The Canadiens will hit the road starting Monday in Washington before heading to Long Island to face the Islanders on Tuesday.
Notes: Saturday night's showdown with the Penguins drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 31st consecutive sellout of the season and 54th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... The game was preceded by a special presentation of 11 Canadian Olympic medalists, including women's hockey gold medal winners Kim St. Pierre and Danielle Goyette... Besides the injured Markov missing his third consecutive game, Niklas Sundstrom, Todd Simpson and Alexander Perezhogin were healthy scratches, with Perezhogin being left out of the lineup for the first time in 15 games dating back to Feb. 2 in Boston... Craig Rivet picked up his 100th career assist when Murray tipped in a Rivet point shot in the first period...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com