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AK-46 mows down penguins; Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 Elder Kostitsyn returns from injury to score first hat trick // The Gazette. Montreal
Andrei Kostitsyn made a dramatic return to the lineup last night as the Canadiens opened their post-Christmas road trip with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kostitsyn, who had missed the previous two games with a leg injury, got the green light yesterday morning and he made the most of the opportunity as he scored three goals for his first NHL hat trick.
He snapped a 2-2 tie when he forced a turnover in the neutral zone and beat Marc-Andre Fleury through the five-hole at 2:21 of the third period.
"We've been telling Andrei for months that he has to shoot the puck," head coach Guy Carbonneau said. "He has one of the best, if not the best shot, on the team and you saw that tonight."
"I'm still sore and it hurt when I was skating fast, but I'm very happy," Kostitsyn said.
Kostitsyn scored twice in the first period to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead. Tomas Plekanec set up both goals from behind the net, finding Kostitsyn open in the slot.
Kostitsyn opened the scoring at 1:15 and then put the Canadiens ahead for a second time when he scored with 1.6 seconds remaining in the period.
"He was in the right place at the right time," Plekanec said. "All I had to do was get him the puck."
Kostitsyn and Plekanec ended month-long slumps. Kostitsyn's last point was a goal against the New York Rangers on Dec. 4, while Plekanec had gone nine games without a point since he scored against Atlanta on Dec. 2.
If Kostitsyn was the offensive hero, the Canadiens' penalty-killers, led by goaltender Carey Price, supplied the defence. The Penguins went 0-for-5 with the extra man and Price was at his best after Alex Tanguay took a penalty with 3:08 remaining in the third period. He made two big stops on Evgeni Malkin, including one on a perfect feed from Sidney Crosby.
"That was probably my best save of the night," said Price, who turned away 32 shots. "Any time you have Crosby and Malkin on the ice, you have to be at your best. On that play, all I can do is try to cover the bottom part of the net and (Malkin) put it right in my glove."
Price stopped all 17 shots he faced in the third period. He said he was mentally relaxed after the Christmas break and a light schedule this month when he was ailing.
"I also had a lot of help out there," he said. "The guys did a good job of not allowing them any shots on rebounds."
This was a night when Price needed eyes in the back of his head.
The Penguins' first goal was the result of a bad bounce. Pascal Dupuis's shot was wide of the net, but it bounced off the end boards and caromed off the back of Price's leg at 14:44 of the opening period.
Crosby, who earned an assist on Dupuis's goal, tied the game at 2-2 when he came from behind the net and beat Price on a wraparound at 5:51 of the second period. It was only the second goal in the past 13 games for Crosby.
While Crosby had two points, the Canadiens kept NHL scoring leader Malkin off the scoreboard. Malkin had a game-high nine shots on goal, but failed to earn at least one point for only the sixth time in 36 games this season.
The win enabled the Canadiens to open a two-point lead on the sixth-place Penguins in the Eastern Conference standings. Montreal also holds two games in hand.
The Canadiens moved on to Florida after the game. They will play the Panthers tomorrow night and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. They'll return home for New Year's Eve and then head to New Jersey for a game against the Devils on Friday.