The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH–Sidney Crosby doesn’t really have an explanation for how he does what he does.
He just does it.
So if you’re looking for clarity on how the Pittsburgh Penguins’ star managed to knock a pass from Jake Guentzel out of the air, then deflect it forward to the front of his stick before tapping it by one of the best goalies on the planet to spark his team to a 5-3 win over Montreal, look elsewhere.
“You try to finish plays out in practice,” Crosby said after the 406th goal of his career, one unlike the 405 that came before it.
“Sometimes it works out that you can do it in the game and sometimes it doesn’t,” he reasoned.
“Fortunately, it did today.”
Montreal rallied from a two-goal deficit to take a 3-2 lead 14:24 into the second on Jacob de la Rose’s fourth goal of the season.
The advantage lasted less than a minute. Guentzel chipped a pass to Crosby and Crosby did the rest.
“Are you surprised, really?” asked Price, who finished with 34 saves in his return after missing a month due to a concussion.
“It was a great play,” he remarked. “I tried to hit it and he got it first, then he batted it back in.
“That’s pretty impressive.”
And pretty necessary for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs, who avoided dropping both games of a back-to-back against also-rans Montreal and the N.Y. Islanders.
“It was a huge goal for us,” said Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan. “It was an answer to the goal that they got to gain the lead.”
Derick Brassard put the Penguins in front to stay by beating Price 2:38 into the third period.
Crosby then became the third active player with 700 career assists when he set up Guentzel for an insurance goal with less than two minutes to play.
“It was a weird second period but I think after the second, we knew it was a big two points for us,” said Guentzel, who had a goal and two assists.
“We needed to come out in the third and I think we did that tonight.”
Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist also scored for the Penguins, who drew within two points of idle first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division.
Casey DeSmith finished with 27 saves and happened to have a pretty good view of Crosby treating the puck like a yo-yo.
“That was one of the cooler things I’ll see,” DeSmith said.
“It was perfect timing, too, right at the end of the second, get it right back,” he added.
“I think that was a huge goal.”
Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Scherbak also scored for the Canadiens but Montreal lost for the ninth time in 10 games.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, it sucks to lose,” forward Brendan Gallagher said.
“I don’t think anyone in here is happy with how it’s been going lately.
“You come to the rink every day with the expectation that you’re going to win a hockey game and too many times, I think, we’ve left disappointed,” he noted.
“It’s been tough.”
The Penguins, meanwhile, are in the midst of a sluggish stretch in which they’ve mixed performances where they look very much like a team capable of winning a third-straight Cup with clunkers like their 4-1 loss to the fading Islanders on Tuesday night.
Sullivan chastised his players afterward for yet another lethargic start and lacklustre play in the defensive end.
Barely 24 hours later, the start was better after Malkin and Hornqvist gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead, but the play in their defensive zone was iffy at best.
Elsewhere in the NHL, Anaheim blanked Calgary 4-0, Arizona beat Buffalo 4-1, and St. Louis edged Boston 2-1 (OT).