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Penguins win barnburner against Habs in overtime

Pittsburgh Penguins Brandon Sutter (16) scores on Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) for the win during overtime NHL action in Montreal, March 2, 2013.


What sort of night was it?

This kind: Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kristopher Letang, arguably one of the league's 10 best blueliners, chalked up four assists.

And ended the evening as a minus-two.

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Between them, the Penguins and host Montreal Canadiens managed to lead this game on a total of five occasions in regulation, and blew it every time.

It turned out the only safe cushion was the one the Pens grabbed in overtime: 7-6.

And the less said about the goaltenders on both sides, the better.

"That looked look like the 1980s out there," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby smiled. "I think everybody got their money's worth tonight. It was exciting. I haven't played in one like that in quite awhile so it reminded me of when I was in Rimouski watching those. (Those types of games) don't happen very often."

If Crosby could afford to grin, it's because his team won – and he contributed a goal and two assists to the effort, breaking two points clear of Tampa's Steven Stamkos in the league's scoring race (he has 32 points in 22 games).

The old cliché holds that fans love these games while coaches hate them.

Turns out this is actually true.

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Montreal's Michel Therrien made a slow walk up to the lectern after his first game against the team that fired him in 2009 and proceeded to win the Stanley Cup a few weeks later.

"Crazy game, eh? Exciting for the fans, but that's one of the reasons coaches start to get grey hair," he said. "But you know what, we're making comebacks and we find a way to get a point."

Despite the overtime loss there is a big picture to be considered: the Habs have gone 10 games without a regulation loss (7-0-3) since losing 6-0 to Toronto on home ice Feb. 9.

It's the longest such sequence for Montreal in two decades.

"You'll take the point, no matter what. It's just that's not the way we wanted to play. It's tough to win games in this league when you're playing that way, especially against a team that's so offensively gifted," said Habs captain Brian Gionta.

Pittsburgh has now arrested a two game slide, and is within two points of the conference lead.

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The Habs are understandably eager to turn the page on this one ("it was just one of those games," Therrien said) as they face Boston on Sunday at TD Garden.

They'll hope this was a simple aberration; Montreal has given up an average of seven first period shots this season, on Saturday they gave up 14.

They had surrendered only 12 goals in nine games coming in, and were among the league's elite even-strength teams.

"I got so many feelings tonight, you don't even know," Therrien said.

Presumably anger, confusion, and – why not – nausea, are among them.

The Canadiens and Penguins have had a tasty little rivalry going since the former ousted the latter in the 2010 playoffs.

One might have expected a tight-checking, closely fought affair.

One would have been farcically, epically wrong.

This was a goal-fest, as thrilling an exhibition of high-octane offence – and 1980s-standard goaltending – as the NHL has had this season; almost 80 shots on goal, and another 25 or so blocked.

Of course it went to overtime, of course it featured 13 goals (all but one scored at even strength), how could it not?

History will recall that Brandon Sutter salted it away in overtime after a nice move around a falling Max Pacioretty. It was Sutter's second of the night.

It wasn't an oil-painting, but it was sure entertaining.

After a frenetically-paced opening few minutes, the Canadiens opened the scoring when Tomas Plekanec won a puck behind the net, and swung a pass to Tomas Kaberle.

The defenceman fired a speculative shot at Tomas Vokoun, and Prust was on hand to slam it into the back of the net from the doorstep at 5:41 of the period.

Pittsburgh tied the game in the latter stages of the first on a power-play, Sutter benefiting from a pass that caromed off Montreal defenceman Alexei Emelin's skate to fire past Carey Price with 53 seconds left in the frame.

In the second, the visitors roared out of the gate, but just when it looked certain Pittsburgh would take the lead, Kaberle made an astute pinch to keep a puck in the Penguins' end, rookie Brendan Gallagher took the puck strong to the net – he's a small man with bottomless reserves of determination – and Pacioretty cleaned up the garbage with a nifty backhand into the roof of the net at the 4:14 mark.

But again, Pittsburgh found a way back.

About eight minutes into the period, Crosby set up shop behind the net, Price made like a contortionist, and Chris Kunitz banked a shot off the big goalie's hindquarters and into the net.

From there, it looked like Pittsburgh would run away with it.

Thirty one seconds after Kunitz scored, Matt Cooke wired a shot through James Neal's screen and past Price.

And less than five minutes later, Cooke had his second, zipping a wrister through defenceman Josh Gorges and past a flummoxed Price – who looked distracted.

Then a funny thing happened.

The Habs stepped on the gas, in a big way – they outshot Pittsburgh 10-1 after the second Cooke goal.

It wasn't that anything was said on the bench, in fact it's revealing that no one needed to say anything.

"We've got character. We knew we weren't playing our game, we knew we were struggling and not playing the way we needed to play, but we made a push at the end of that second, and got ourselves back in the game. Unfortunately we had a chance to win that game, that's what's disappointing," Gionta said.

Gionta gave the Bell Centre a smidgen of hope by tipping a Francis Bouillon shot past Vokoun at 17:37, just as a power-play expired.

Then defenceman P.K. Subban stole in from the point and swatted a shot past Vokoun with 0.7 seconds on the clock.

Cue the playoff-loud pandemonium.

The Habs made it 5-4 at 5:25 of the third when David Desharnais knocked down an Emelin point shot, made a quick spinm and stuffed it past Vokoun, but the Pens again had an answer.

With the Montreal defence at sea in their own zone, Crosby surveyed the situation from the corner and made a pinpoint pass to Kunitz in the high slot, his one-time shot clanked off the post and in at 8:33.

Then Crosby gave Pittsburgh yet another lead at 10:24, hopping off the bench and skating directly to the front of the net where he roofed a shot into the top corner.

Game over, right?

Not even close.

It took precisely 30 seconds for the Habs to tie the game. Lars Eller – who by then had replaced Tomas Plekanec on Montreal's second line – left a drop pass for Gionta, who rifled his second of the game past Vokoun, who has looked better than he did on that goal.

But at least he can be lauded for sticking to the theme of the evening.

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