MONTREAL -- The Habs stood toe-to-toe with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions for 40 minutes on Thursday, but couldn't hang on in the third.
In fact, it was the Canadiens who jumped out to an early 2-0 lead courtesy of Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron before eventually heading into first intermission tied at two apiece.
A goal from each side in the middle 20 would then have the two teams knotted up heading into the final frame, despite Pittsburgh holding a 29-13 advantage in shots.
But in the end Patric Hornqvist had the final say, scoring the game-winner -- his second goal of the night -- at 12:24 in the third, before Bryan Rust added the empty netter.
Video: MTL Recap: Habs can't hold lead in 5-3 loss to Pens
"I thought we played a good game; we didn't give up," underlined Nicolas Deslauriers, who scored the Habs' third goal in the 5-3 decision, snapping an 18-game goalless streak. "Our matchups were really good tonight, with [Jonathan] Drouin's line opposite Evgeni Malkin doing a good job, and [Jacob] de la Rose's line playing well opposite [Sidney] Crosby."
Crosby was notably held to an assist on the night, being matched throughout the evening with a line comprised of de la Rose, Lehkonen, and Alex Galchenyuk -- the former of whom also gleaned a few tricks from the Penguins captain.
"When you're out there you're so focused on your own game, but he's probably the best player in the world, so you'll take stuff away from guys like him all the time," admitted de la Rose. "I tried to figure out a way to beat him on faceoffs first of all -- he's really good at that."
Video: Jacob de la Rose on containing Sidney Crosby
That's mission accomplished in at least one regard for head coach Claude Julien.
"[Jacob] had a tough game in Columbus, but he bounced back well the other night against Dallas, and he did a good job again tonight. For a young guy like him to be tasked with containing a player like Crosby -- he's done a good job so far," stressed the Habs bench boss. "His confidence seems to be in the right place."
Not to mention his pride.
"We're still pretty good hockey players ourselves though, so we can't have too much respect [for the other team]. We've got to play our own game," added the 22-year-old, who finished the night a plus-1, with two shots on goal and two hits over 16:17 of ice time. "I thought we stood up well against them, but obviously we would have liked to create more offense than we did. We only had 20 shots, and it's tough to win games like that. We've got to see what we can do better and bounce back for next game."
Indeed, the Canadiens would do well to continue playing their inspired brand of hockey of late, with 11 games left on the schedule.
Video: Brendan Gallagher on the effort against Pittsburgh
"These games aren't useless. We're really trying to build a culture and a winning atmosphere around here. I think this last little stretch here we've been building towards that," concluded Brendan Gallagher. "We've been coming to the rink every day and really buying into the system and doing whatever it takes to try to win. We've been playing some pretty good hockey teams, but when we do the things that we need to do, we can compete with anyone. It takes a lot of effort and commitment, but as of late I think that's been better."
The Habs face Toronto next on Saturday, but will have two more opportunities to see how they stack up against the defending champs, on March 21 and 31 in Pittsburgh.