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Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a glove save on the puck in front of David Desharnais #58 of the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 12, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a glove save on the puck in front of David Desharnais #58 of the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 12, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Penguins cruise past Canadiens Add to ...

It was written in a completely different context, but Miami Heat forward LeBron James's recent tweet ("Karma's a b****, gets you every time") is nevertheless applicable.

When the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price put the finishing touches on a brilliant shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins last Thursday, he struck an arms-crossed beat-boy pose.

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But yesterday's hero is tomorrow's goat, so the Habs can't be too offended that Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a native of Sorel, Que., mimed the same pose after dispatching his boyhood heroes 5-2 on Wednesday night.

"Ah, I'm just having some fun," Fleury beamed mischievously after the game, which snapped a pair of streaks: the Pens' three-game slide and the Habs' 4-0-1 string.

Pittsburgh forward Jordan Staal, whose goal and two assists were more than enough to earn him the game's first star, said it was a relief to get back into the win column for the first time since captain Sidney Crosby went out with a concussion.

"We were obviously headed in the wrong direction and we wanted to change that," the hulking centre said.

Staal brushed aside the suggestion that Price's styling created any more ill will between the teams (they already detested one another, a consequence of last year's playoff series).

"I wouldn't say it was a big conversation point in our room," he said.

If Fleury was rock solid repelling 20 of 22 shots in a building where he has had his travails - particularly last year in the postseason - Price yielded a pair of short-side goals at inopportune times in a loss that saw him face 36 shots.

But it's unfair to hang a result on one player; in truth there was plenty of blame to go around the Habs' dressing room.

The Canadiens own the league's best penalty-killing set-up, but it couldn't hold back the tide as the visitors scored four goals on six straight Montreal penalties.

"The penalties were the story of the game," said Montreal forward Mathieu Darche.

Defenceman Jaroslav Spacek was credited with six giveaways in the game - his inadvertent pass directly to Staal on the latter's goal was a peach - and he and fellow rearguard Roman Hamrlik were on the ice for all four Pittsburgh power-play goals.

"Some people didn't do the job on the penalty-killing, it's pretty simple," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said acidly after the game.

It's an open question whether Crosby was well enough to flip on a television and watch his squad take on the Montreal Canadiens.

If he did, Crosby will have approved of what he saw.

But beyond NHL regular-season game No. 642, played Wednesday night at the Bell Centre, the game's pre-eminent player can be forgiven for having his mind on other things.

It doesn't appear Crosby, who was injured when Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman rammed him into the boards from behind in a game last week, will be returning any time soon.

"He's getting tested this week again and he's getting better, but we're not going to progress further until the symptoms subside," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said before the game.

It was originally expected Crosby, who also suffered a blow to the head from Washington's David Steckel in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, would miss about a week.

"We're about there now. Again, we're not going to move forward until his symptoms go away," said Bylsma.

Each passing day that Crosby, the face of the NHL, misses will surely draw closer scrutiny on head injuries and the way the league deals with them.

And it's to wonder whether this might not be Crosby's "garage league" moment.

Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux, then the league's dominant player, famously used the expression in 1992 to condemn the clutch-and-grab style that then prevailed.

It was a shock outburst from a player not given to such things, perhaps Lemieux talked about more than on-ice matters with Crosby, his one-time lodger.

It's not in the 23-year-old superstar's habits to openly criticize the NHL - this is a player, after all, who bowed to requests to attend the 2009 All-Star game festivities in Montreal despite a knee injury - but that's exactly what he did this past weekend.

Hedman wasn't penalized on the play, nor was Steckel, and when Crosby was asked about the incidents, he replied "I didn't like them. You talk about headshots and dealing with them ... there's no puck there on both of them. Direct hit to the head on both of them. If you go through the criteria, I think they fit all those."

"Those are things that hopefully they [the league]pay more attention to," he later added.

Crosby is not without his critics among his peers and rival organizations, but there's a sense in hockey circles that a concussion to a player of his stature may give the league pause.

"If they're not looking at what Sid is saying, then there's some pretty stupid people out there, he's the biggest thing in this game," one influential former player said of the league and the NHL Players' Association.

If Crosby wasn't in Montreal, his teammates were, and they also have more immediate concerns: figuring out how to win without their best player against a team with one of the NHL's best home records.

The match-up also featured a duel between all-star netminders, both of whom had their moments in the early going.

Pittsburgh's Alex Goligoski opened the scoring in the first with his eighth of the year on an unstoppable first-period slapshot, but Tomas Plekanec replied with his 13th just 18 seconds later to tie the score.

Montreal's David Desharnais tallied his first NHL score to give the home team a 2-1 lead early in the second.

Then came a parade of penalties.

The first to go off was Benoit Pouliot, for high-sticking in front of the Pittsburgh net, 3:04 into the period. Pittsburgh's Kristopher Letang manoeuvred around Spacek and slipped a pass to Tyler Kennedy, who beat Price short side on the power play for his seventh.

Then came a too-many-men penalty with under two minutes in the frame, and Staal snapped a similar shot to Kennedy's past Price with only 11 seconds to go.

It was the injury-plagued Staal's first goal of the year, eight months to the day since his last one.

In the third, Pouliot drew a hooking call in the offensive zone, and Goligoski scored his second of the night on a goalmouth scramble as Mike Rupp shoved Hamrlik into Price, who lost his trapper on the sequence.

The Habs had staged comebacks in each of their previous five games, and clearly had intentions of mounting a sixth, pouring forward.

Pouliot thought he'd brought Montreal to 4-3 when he snapped a gorgeous shot into the top corner, but his goal was waved off as he was called for slashing Kennedy on the sequence.

It was his third penalty of the game.

Pittsburgh didn't score on the subsequent man-advantage, but they potted a fifth when defenceman James Wisniewski was called for hooking.

Chris Kunitz scored his 14th of the season, Letang tallied his third assist of the night.

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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