PITTSBURGH (AP) -Once, twice, three times the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't hold leads against Montreal. On their bench, new coach Dan Bylsma could easily pinpoint all the problems that led to predecessor Michel Therrien's firing.
Was he concerned? For sure. Amid the mistakes and sloppy goaltending, Bylsma liked the aggressiveness, the here-we-come-again attitude and a resiliency the Penguins were missing during most of a disappointing season.
The Penguins gave up a two-goal lead in the third period, but rallied on defenseman Sergei Gonchar's first goal following a long injury layoff to beat the Canadiens 5-4 on Thursday night for Bylsma's first NHL coaching victory.
Maybe it wasn't a textbook win that produced a game tape Bylsma will show future generations of Penguins players. But it was, Bylsma hopes, the start of a late-season surge that allows last season's Eastern Conference champions to return to the playoffs.
"Our guys were energized, focused and ready to go," Bylsma said. "I think they had a real clear understanding of what was at stake and the way we wanted to play. While it wasn't perfect, I think they sent a message loud and clear."
By winning for only the fourth time in 10 games, the Penguins closed within four points of the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs. Gonchar's goal was his first in three games since returning from a preseason shoulder injury.
"It's a big emotional win for us," said Max Talbot, who teamed with NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin for goals in the opening 3 minutes of the third period. "It's great for us, great for the coaching staff."
The Pittsburgh management felt a young, talented team led by two of the NHL's top three scorers in Malkin and captain Sidney Crosby was stagnating in Therrien's disciplined system, failing to utilize its speed and playmaking ability.
That's why Bylsma held an extended, three-hour meeting and practice Wednesday designed to begin transforming the Penguins back into a team that forces the play, pressures the puck and creates scoring chances by being aggressive.
"We only had one practice and we have some things to work on, but overall I think it was good to see the guys play hard and skate all over the ice," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said.
Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan also scored for Pittsburgh.
Tomas Plekanec scored twice and added an assist, and Andrei Kostitsyn set up two goals to go with his 22nd, but the Canadiens lost their second in two nights and 12th in 15 games. Mathieu Schneider scored his first goal since being traded back to the Canadiens by Atlanta for two draft picks Monday.
"We need to start tightening things up, and realize from here on out it's not going to get any easier." Josh Gorges said. "We need to stop this from here on out. We've waited too long already."
Or exactly what the Penguins are saying.
"It was a pretty high tempo, and that's the way we want to play," Crosby said.
At Philadelphia, Mike Richards had two goals and three assists for a career-high five points, and Mike Knuble broke a third-period tie for the Flyers.
Richards scored his NHL-leading sixth short-handed goal and second in two games, and added an empty-netter. Darroll Powe, Glen Metropolit and Braydon Coburn also scored, and Martin Biron made 39 saves.
Jaroslav Spacek had two goals, and Derek Roy also scored for Buffalo.
At San Jose, Calif., Patrick Marleau scored his 33rd goal, Joe Thornton had two assists and the Sharks earned their NHL-best 25th home victory.
Lukas Kaspar, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Milan Michalek also scored for the Western Conference-leading Sharks, Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves in his 30th victory of the season, and Claude Lemieux got his first NHL point in 2,174 days for San Jose.
Michal Handzus and Alexander Frolov scored for Los Angeles.
At Sunrise, Fla., Cristobal Huet made 31 saves for his third shutout of the season, and Ben Eager scored twice for Chicago.
Andrew Ladd and Jonathan Toews also scored.
At Tampa, Fla., Zach Parise scored the tying goal in regulation and had one of two New Jersey goals in the shootout.
Patrik Elias also scored in the shootout, and Brian Rolston had a goal in regulation for the Devils, who have won 14 of 17.
Ryan Malone scored twice for Tampa Bay. The Lightning have lost eight of 10.
At Uniondale, N.Y., Eric Staal scored his 25th and 26th goals, and Matt Cullen, Ray Whitney and defensemen Dennis Seidenberg and Sergei Samsonov added goals in Carolina's fourth straight road victory.
Mark Streit and Jon Sim scored for New York.
At Ottawa, Henrik Sedin had a goal and three assists, Alex Burrows added a goal and two assists, and linemate Daniel Sedin had a goal and an assist for Vancouver.
Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kessler also scored, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots to help Vancouver win for the seventh time in eight games.
Dany Heatley and Mike Fisher scored for Ottawa.
At Dallas, Raymond Sawada scored his first NHL goal on his 24th birthday, and Fabian Brunnstrom had a goal and an assist for the Stars.
Sawada made his NHL debut after being recalled from Manitoba earlier in the day.
Krys Barch and Jere Lehtinen also scored, and Marty Turco made 21 saves in his club-record 28th straight start. Liam Reddox and Shawn Horcoff scored for Edmonton.
At Toronto, Rick Nash capped a big night with the shootout winner to give Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock his 500th career victory.
Nash scored his 25th goal and added an assist in regulation, and Kristian Huselius and R.J. Umberger scored in regulation for the Blue Jackets, 6-0-1 in their last seven. Nik Antropov scored twice for Toronto, and Jamal Mayers added a goal.
At Glendale, Ariz., Daniel Carcillo scored in the eighth round of the shootout to snap Phoenix's six-game home losing streak.
Shane Doan also scored in the shootout, and Joakim Lindstrom, Viktor Tikhonov and Steven Goertzen had goals in regulation for the Coyotes, who won for the second time in 11 gams since the All-Star break. Ilya Kovalchuk, Erik Christensen and Bryan Little scored in regulation, and Vyacheslav Kozlov added a shootout goal for Atlanta.
At St. Paul, Minn., Adrian Aucoin scored with 1:10 left in overtime for Calgary after ringing a shot off the post on a breakaway earlier in the extra period.
Rene Bourque and Dustin Boyd also scored, and Miikka Kipprusoff made 27 saves. Dan Fritsche and Colton Gillies scored for Minnesota.
At Nashville, Tenn., Keith Tkachuk scored with 2:08 left in overtime, and Chris Mason made 28 saves for St. Louis.
Andy McDonald also scored for the Blues. Steve Sullivan scored for Nashville.