Sidney Crosby saved the best for last.
Crosby, the 18-year-old super rookie, scored the only shootout goal Thursday night at Mellon Arena to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
A screaming crowd of 16,254 was on its feet for the shootout. Pittsburgh goaltender Jocelyn Thibault denied Michael Ryder, Alex Kovalev and Alexander Perezhogin, while Montreal’s Jose Theodore turned away Mark Recchi and Mario Lemieux.
It set the stage for Crosby, Pittsburgh’s last shooter. He delivered as he deked to his left, went right and lifted a shot that beat Theodore. The goal sent the rowdy Mellon Arena crowd into an all-out frenzy.
"Our players really sucked it up tonight," Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said. "We played a really good first period and got a lucky break on the first goal and then they started coming. Then we got some chances to put the game away in the second period. [Montreal goalie Jose] Theodore played very well and when they started coming, Jocelyn played extremely well and gave us an opportunity to get to overtime and then to keep it going into the shootout."
It is the Penguins' fourth win in six games and the first contest at Mellon Arena since Oct. 29.
"Considering the long road trip and the back-to-back games and with Montreal sitting there it was a gutsy performance by a gusty team – I couldn’t be more proud of them," Olczyk said.
Crosby and Lemieux scored power-play goals to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
The Penguins (5-7-5) got on the scoreboard with 12:59 to play in the period when Crosby tallied his sixth goal of the year. He fired a pass to Ziggy Palffy, who was alone on the back post, but the puck deflected off a Montreal defender’s skate and into the net. Sergei Gonchar and Palffy earned assists.
Lemieux caught a high stick from Montreal’s Mathieu Dandenault behind the Canadiens goal with 2:31 to go. Dandenault cleared the puck and caught Lemieux on the left cheek with the blade of his stick. Lemieux stayed face-down on the ice for a couple minutes before he was helped to the Penguins’ bench.
Unfazed, No. 66 scored his seventh goal of the year 1:16 later. From the slot, he redirected Palffy’s pass behind Theodore with 1:15 left on the scoreboard. Ric Jackman earned the other assist.
Craig Rivet sliced Montreal’s deficit to 2-1 with 7:26 remaining in the second period. His shot from the blue line deflected off Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney and caromed into the net for the power-play goal.
Christopher Higgins tied the game at 2-all with 3:31 to go in the contest for the Canadiens (12-3-2), who entered the game with the most points in the Eastern Conference. He one-timed a shot past Thibault.
Both sides failed to score in the overtime period.
ICE CHIPS: Rob Scuderi, Lyle Odelein and Ryan VandenBussche were the Penguins’ healthy scratches…Pierre Dagenais and Jan Bulis were Montreal’s healthy scratches…Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot took a shoulder to the face with 8:52 left in the third period from Montreal’s Steve Begin. The hit sent Talbot’s helmet flying and he remained on the ice for some time. He had to be helped into the locker room. Begin got a 5:00 misconduct penalty, a 10:00 misconduct penalty and a game misconduct penalty.