MONTREAL - Pittsburgh Penguins star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made up for an ordinary start to the playoffs by returning to his home province and posting a big shutout win.
Fleury, who is from nearby Sorel, Que., made 18 saves for his first shutout of the post-season to lead the Stanley Cup champion Penguins to a 2-0 playoff victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.
Evgeni Malkin ended a four-game drought with a power play goal and Pascal Dupuis added an empty-netter as Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series.
Jaroslav Halak was strong again in a losing effort for Montreal, allowing one goal on 23 shots. For a second playoff round in a row, the Canadiens dropped their first home game to fall behind.
Game 4 is set for Thursday night at the Bell Centre, with the Penguins having snatched back home ice advantage they had given up with up with a 3-1 loss on home ice in Game 2 on Sunday.
"The guys played well in front of me, clearing rebounds and doing the little things to help out," said Fleury after his fourth career playoff shutout. "It felt good."
The big goaltender came into the game with ordinary numbers - a 2.80 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage - as Pittsburgh relied on its goal-scoring prowess to get past Ottawa in the first round and split its opening two games against Montreal.
He was beginning to take some heat for sub-par play, but coach Dan Bylsma wasn't worried. Fleury tends to save his best for big games, as he did in shutting down Detroit in the final games of last spring's Stanley Cup final, including his heart-stopping save on Nik Lidstrom in the dying seconds of Game 7.
"There have been questions - we've seen them at different times of his career," said Bylsma. "He's never been one to put up blazing numbers.
"But he's always been one to answer in the game-save situation, or to throw up big games. Our room believes in the guy we have got in the net. Time and again he's proven it."
It wasn't pretty hockey as neither team was able to open up its attack, and Fleury spent long moments with little to do, especially in the middle period when the Penguins outshot Montreal 13-3.
"They got a power play goal and we didn't," said Montreal coach Jacques Martin. "It was the kind of game where whoever scored first would win."
The chants of Ha-Lak Ha-Lak went up from the crowd of 21,273 as soon as the Canadiens took to the ice, but unlike the first two games in Pittsburgh, the Canadiens goaltender faced only three first-period shots as the Penguins gave Montreal a taste of its own medicine by hanging back, blocking shots and protecting Fleury.
Still, Michael Cammalleri broke through but shot wide, and with 1:16 left in the period, Maxim Lapierre rang a shot off the crossbar from close range.
The Penguins turned the tide in the second frame and Halak had to be at his best, stopping Matt Cooke in alone and making a brilliant save on Alex Goligoski on a back door play.
"In the second we started pressuring them and made them take penalties by working hard down low," said defenceman Kris Letang. "It's a tough building.
"They came out more aggressive than they did in Pittsburgh. We made some mistakes and that gave them momentum."
Pittsburgh started the third on a power play with both of Montreal's shutdown defencemen, Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, in the penalty box. Martin was upset at the Gorges call, when he was sent off with Letang after a mass scrum at the end of the second period, because he said "they didn't get the guy (Penguins star Sidney Crosby) who started the ruckus."
Sergei Gonchar fed a pass to Malkin by the right boards for a one-time shot that beat Halak with Crosby screening in front.
Montreal had some glittering chances. Fleury got a pad down to stop a Cammalleri blast midway through the third and late in the game, he managed to block Tomas Plekanec's tip at the edge of the crease, which Fleury called his best save of the game.
Crosby was held without a point for a second straight game despite an energetic effort and didn't let his frustration show as he did in Game 2 when he smashed a stick on Halak's goalpost. he finished with one shot on goal, but was plus-1.
"It's playoff hockey," said Crosby. "I'd be the first to tell you I'd love to score every game and set up guys, but sometimes the game doesn't dictate that, or you don't get the bounces and you have to find other was to be productive - defensively, creating things for other guys or just being responsible."
Since scoring twice in his first game at the Bell Centre in 2006, the Penguins captain has no goals and five assists in eight games in Montreal.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended the game
Notes: Veteran right winger Bill Guerin was a surprise scratch for the Penguins with an undisclosed injury. . . Montreal defence ace Andrei Markov, injured in Game 1, reportedly has a torn ACL and won't be back. . . Jaroslav Spacek sat out a seventh game with a virus, but centre Glen Metropolit was back in to replace Ben Max. . . Pittsburgh centre Jordan Staal skated briefly Tuesday morning but was unable to play. Coach Dan Bylsma lists him day to say after he needed surgery on a cut to a foot in Game 1.