Malkin’s OT winner propels Pens past Canadiens
PITTSBURGH (AP) The Penguins closed out a memorable year with one last dramatic win.
Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal 1:54 into overtime and Pittsburgh rallied to beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 on Saturday night for its fourth straight victory.
Montreal was whistled for too many men on the ice 1:10 into OT, and then Malkin scored his 16th of the season. Conor Sheary tied it with 55 seconds left in the third period by scoring his ninth goal of the season.
”I think we want to play with the lead a little bit more, but I think the resilience we have is showing,” Sheary said.
Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel also scored for the Penguins, who won for the fifth time in six games as they defend their Stanley Cup championship. Pittsburgh won 12 of 15 games in December, finishing with 12 wins in a calendar month for the fourth time in team history and the second under coach Mike Sullivan.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 37 shots for Pittsburgh. He is 6-0-1 in his last seven games and tied former Penguin Tom Barrasso for 17th on the NHL’s career wins list with 369.
Defenseman Kris Letang returned for Pittsburgh after missing seven games with a lower-body injury. The Penguins won four of seven games without Letang, who assisted on the tying and winning goals.
”He’s such a difference-maker for our team and we use him in so many situations,” Sullivan said. ”It’s hard to ease him in because when he’s on your bench, it’s so tempting to put him over the boards. He means so much to this team.”
Alexander Radulov, Paul Byron and Brian Flynn scored for the Canadiens, who have one win in their last five games. Montreal, on a season-high seven-game road trip, has seven wins in 17 road games this season.
Carey Price made 37 saves for Montreal.
”I thought we played pretty well,” Price said. ”But it’s always tough to lose a game when you’re up with a minute left. And to lose in overtime isn’t too much fun.”
Malkin finished with a goal and an assist to move ahead of Sidney Crosby for the NHL scoring lead with 43 points. Malkin scored seven goals and had 21 points in December.
Crosby, who entered tied with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid for the scoring lead, had his six-game point streak and season-high five-game point streak end. Crosby led all players in the 2016 calendar year with 53 goals and 100 points in 76 games.
The year almost ended with a loss for the defending Stanley Cup champs, who trailed throughout most of the third period. But Pittsburgh pressed down the stretch to score the equalizer.
”It was not a perfect game,” Letang said. ”We got the result, but it was wide open. It’s not the style we want to play, but at least we have the character to come back in games.”
Flynn gave Montreal a 3-2 lead 2:04 into the third period. His initial shot hit the post and kicked back out, hitting Penguins’ D Chad Ruhwedel and Fleury before going into the net.
The lead stood until Sheary tied the game in the final minute for Pittsburgh. Fleury was pulled when Justin Schultz’s shot hit Sheary in front and deflected behind Price. Schultz has seven goals and 19 points in his last 16 games.
”There was a lane to the side of the net and I think (Schultz) saw me,” Sheary said. ”I wouldn’t be surprised if he shot it at my chest to redirect it, but it was a great play by him to get it through.”
It was the goal that allowed Pittsburgh to win it in overtime and close 2016 with a win.
”The end result is always what matters,” Sheary said. ”To climb two more points in the standings is huge at this point of the year.”
NOTES: Defenseman Olli Maatta returned for Pittsburgh after missing two games with an illness. … Pittsburgh, with points in 11 straight home games, owns the league’s best home record at 17-2-2. … Canadiens D Shea Weber played in his 800th NHL game. Weber played 11 seasons in Nashville before he was traded to Montreal in the summer. … Goaltender Matt Murray, who led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup in the spring, is week-to-week with a lower-body injury suffered Wednesday against Carolina.
Canadiens: Continue their trip Tuesday at Nashville
Penguins: Begin their bye week and will not play again until Sunday, Jan. 8 against Tampa Bay at home.