MONTREAL (AP) -Evgeni Malkin continues to carry the Pittsburgh Penguins to the heights of the Eastern Conference despite Sidney Crosby's absence.
Malkin scored his 35th goal midway through the third period and got his second assist of the game on Sergei Gonchar's power-play goal moments later to help the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 on Thursday night
Malkin, who assisted on Ryan Whitney's goal 6:46 in to become the first player to reach 80 points this season, scored on a breakaway 10:22 into the third to tie it after Pittsburgh - which led 2-0 and 3-1 - blew a two-goal margin to fall behind 4-3.
"I've said it before, I played with him during the lockout and I knew what he was capable of," said Gonchar, who restored the Penguins' lead with his 10th goal at 10:58. "He's just playing up to his potential with more ice time and more chances and I kind of expect it from him. It's not a surprise to me."
Gonchar recorded his 600th career point in his 883rd regular-season game when the veteran defenseman's point shot got past Cristobal Huet for Pittsburgh's second power-play goal of the game 15 seconds after Montreal's Alex Kovalev was sent off for interference.
"When you're in the league for a while, it happens," said Gonchar, who broke in with Washington in 1994-95 and had a brief stint with Boston at the end of the 2003-04 season before signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent in August 2005. "I was fortunate enough to play with good players in Washington and here, and fortunate enough to stay healthy throughout my career."
Dany Sabourin made 17 saves and Jarko Ruutu and Ryan Malone also scored for the Penguins, who won their third in a row to tie New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead with 75 points.
Michael Ryder and Roman Hamrlik scored third-period goals to put Montreal up 4-3 early in the third two nights after the Canadiens pulled off the biggest comeback in the storied franchise's history.
Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins also scored for Montreal, which overcame a 5-0 deficit Tuesday with five unanswered goals before Koivu scored in the shootout for a 6-5 win over the New York Rangers to extend their winning streak to four.
"I think at game time, going in, we thought we'd probably have to score at least six - I'm just kidding," Malone said. "We obviously respect their talent and their power play and we know if we opened up the game it was going to be a high-scoring game, and we tried to limit their chances and they still got four on us but we ended up getting the two points this time and it was nice."
The Canadiens, who also have 75 points, fell one point behind Ottawa for the Eastern Conference and Northeast Division leads.
"The team wasn't focused enough to get the two points," Koivu said. "Things happen during the game and I think it was an emotional game again. At this point of the season you're going to see more individual battles and matchups. The bottom line is we didn't get the job done on the penalty killing or the 5-on-5s. I think it was more the mental part of the game, not the physical."
|Saku Koivu, left, scores on Penguins goalie Dany Sabourin as Penguins teammate Jordan Staal moves in during the second period of Pittsburgh's 5-4 win in Montreal on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Ian Barrett)
Malkin, who leads the league with 82 points, extended his points streak to 10 games with an assist as Whitney opened the scoring with his 12th goal.
Ruutu added an unassisted goal at 18:47 to put the Penguins up 2-0.
Koivu scored his 12th goal 3:27 into the second to draw Montreal within 2-1, before Malone restored Pittsburgh's two-goal lead with his 20th goal on a power play at 6:59.
Higgins scored a power-play goal late in the second to draw Montreal within 3-2. Ryder, who scored the Canadiens' first two goals Tuesday to launch the historic comeback, tied it at 3 with his 12th goal 21 seconds into the third.
Hamrlik gave the Canadiens their first lead of the game 3:25 into the third with Montreal's second power-play goal.
Notes: Pittsburgh won its second in a row at the Bell Centre to split the season series. The Penguins, who won 2-0 in Montreal on Jan. 19, lost two home games to the Canadiens in October. ... Canadiens LW Steve Begin missed the game because of a groin injury. RW Tom Kostopoulos and D Patrice Brisebois were healthy scratches.