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Penguins beat Canadiens; winning streak reaches 13

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- By his own estimation, Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price came within about five millimeters of playing a perfect game Tuesday.

It's taking better than that to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins these days.

Sidney Crosby scored, Tomas Vokoun and Marc-Andre Fleury combined for the Penguins' third shutout of the season, and Pittsburgh won its 13th consecutive game by beating Montreal 1-0 at Consol Energy Center.

"Obviously, he's the best player in the world," Price said of NHL scoring leader Crosby. "About five millimeters was the difference in the game tonight."

That and the play of Fleury and Vokoun. Fleury made 25 saves over the first two periods, but did not play the third because of an undisclosed injury. Fleury appeared dazed after Canadiens captain Brian Gionta pushed Pittsburgh's Tyler Kennedy into Fleury during the final minute of the second period.

Play was stopped for several moments while Fleury composed himself, and he remained in the game through the end of the period. Vokoun made 12 saves in relief.

"We don't win the hockey game without our goalies playing like they did," Crosby said.

His former coach, Michel Therrien, placed the credit elsewhere.

"We got beat tonight by the best player in the world by the perfect shot," said Therrien, who coached the Penguins from Crosby's rookie season in 2005 through early 2009.

Crosby's second-period goal was his 15th of the season for the Penguins, who have also won 10 in a row at home and have opened up a seven-point lead over the Canadiens and Bruins in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Montreal was shut out for the first time since Feb. 9 and has lost consecutive games for the first time this season. Price stopped 24 of 25 shots for Montreal, which had its five-game road winning streak snapped.

The Penguins streak is the NHL's longest since the Washington Capitals ran off 14 straight in January-February of 2010. That's one of four streaks in NHL history longer than the Penguins' current run. The League record is 17 -- set by the Penguins late in the 1992-93 season.

Fleury, who extended his personal winning streak to eight, earned his League-best 18th victory. Two of his best stops were pad saves on Michael Ryder four minutes into second and on Andrei Markov during a power play about 4 1/2 minutes later.

But he was robbed of the chance for his second shutout of the season -- and team-record 24th of his career -- on a play that coach Dan Bylsma said the Penguins "took exception to."

Gionta's response? "If you watch the replay, their own guy falls on Fleury. It's pretty much self-explanatory."

Bylsma said Fleury would continue to be evaluated, but offered no other details.

The combined shutout was the fourth in Penguins' history and first since Feb. 2, 2011, when Brent Johnson fought New York Islanders counterpart Rick DiPietro during the final minute of a 3-0 win.

"As a goalie, you have to be ready all the time -- you never know," Vokoun said. "I've played long enough. I know anything can happen any second.

"We were winning -- so you don't want to mess that up."

The Penguins' streak began against the Canadiens on March 2 in Montreal -- but that game was vastly different than this one. Pittsburgh claimed a 7-6 victory that night on Brandon Sutter's overtime goal. But the run-and-gun ways of the early portion of Pittsburgh's winning streak have given way to defensive struggles.

The Penguins have allowed nine goals in their past nine games. Vokoun's best stop was denying a wrister by Montreal leading goal-scorer Tomas Plekanec from the inside of the right circle with 6:24 left.

"There are times we haven't played our best, but our focus has been on being strong defensively," Crosby said. "To win that many, your goaltenders have to steal a game or two over that time period."

For the second time in a three-day span at Consol Energy Center, a game remained scoreless passed its midway point. Crosby broke it up both times, extending his point streak to five games with 6:41 left in the second Tuesday.

Linemate Chris Kunitz hit Crosby with a perfect pass from inside the Penguins' blue line on their left wing across the ice to Crosby at Montreal's blue line on the right side. Crosby's wrist shot beat Price high and to the far side.

Pittsburgh welcomed Brenden Morrow to the lineup two days after he was acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars. Morrow left briefly for the dressing room late in the second period for an equipment issue but returned to play during the third. He had no points or shots, one hit and an even rating in 12:55 of ice time often skating on a line with Dustin Jeffrey and James Neal.

"This kind of game is what I came here for, what I was looking for," said Morrow, the former Stars captain who waived a no-trade clause to come to Pittsburgh.

The Penguins also had Kris Letang, in the lineup for the first time in four games. The League's top-scoring defenseman was taken off the injured reserve list Tuesday afternoon after missing time because of a lower-body injury.

Letang logged more than 24 minutes but told RDS after the game that he was not 100 percent after the first period.

The Penguins' winning streak has coincided with the month of March. At 13-0, they've set a team record for most wins in a calendar month. Pittsburgh has won nine in a row against Northeast Division teams, and nine of the 13 victories during its streak have been by one goal.

Montreal lost despite a heavy advantage in shots on goal for the second time in four days. They outshot the Buffalo Sabres 39-18 in a 2-1 home loss on Saturday and held a 37-25 advantage in shots against the Penguins.

"I thought we played really solid 5-on-5," Therrien said. "There's nothing to be ashamed about the way we played tonight."

Veteran forward Jeff Halpern played 14:51 for Montreal, three days after being claimed off waivers from the New York Rangers.

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