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Canadiens Bounce Back, Push Penguins to Playoff Brink

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After splitting two shaky games to start their summertime playoffs, the Penguins had command of the score and seemingly the series Wednesday night, but the Canadiens scored the final three goals to take a 4-3 win and a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five qualification set.

Jeff Petry’s bad-angle goal with 15 minutes left in the third period held up as the decider in Toronto, as the Montréal defenseman whipped a wrister off the side of Matt Murray’s mask and in from directly left of the Penguins’ net. Pittsburgh got a late power play and spent much of the final four minutes in the Habs’ zone, but couldn’t force overtime.

Petry’s second goal of the series has put the Habs in position to score the upset despite finishing the season with the 12th-best record in the Eastern Conference. Montréal will have two chances to eliminate the Penguins, starting with Friday’s 4 p.m. faceoff at Scotiabank Arena.

The Penguins’ power play broke through with a first-period two-spot on Wednesday, and their lead was 3-1 at the midway point. But even that wasn’t enough to snap the postseason funk the franchise finds itself in: Pittsburgh has lost eight of its past nine Stanley Cup playoff games dating back to 2018.

For a change, the Penguins were chasing Montréal to start the game, as the Habs created multiple chances off the rush in the opening minutes. The pressure culminated in Shea Weber’s rebound goal from the lip of the crease, a score Mike Sullivan challenged for goalie interference.

No dice there, so the Penguins had to kill a minor penalty to boot. That they did, beginning the work of bending the early trajectory of the game.

And, go figure, they did it with their much-criticized power play, which scored twice in 59 seconds to snatch the lead back. First, Patric Hörnqvist buried Evgeni Malkin’s cross-rink pass from the bottom of the left circle at 8:40 of the first, breaking a streak of frustration for the top power-play unit, which had been scoreless in the series.

Since the goal was scored with another penalty pending on the Canadiens, Pittsburgh went right back to the advantage. Although a center-point shot by John Marino was blocked, Jason Zucker lifted a bump pass from Bryan Rust into the top-right corner, past a kneeling Carey Price.

The good feelings increased on the visitors’ bench 5 1/2 minutes into the second, when Brandon Tanev outraced Victor Meté to a loose puck and centered for Zach Aston-Reese. He couldn’t beat Price from close range, but Teddy Blueger jammed the rebound home for the Penguins’ second two-goal lead of the series.

Much like the multi-goal lead in Game 2, though, this one didn’t have much staying power.

Jonathan Drouin beat Justin Schultz at the net-front for a deflection goal at 10:13 of the second, depositing Ben Chariot’s slap-pass. Five minutes later, Paul Byron shoved the rebound of his own wraparound under Murray’s left pad, setting up a decisive third.

Watch Pittsburgh Postgame, as Dan Kingerski and I turned over some “sweeping changes” that might be in the offing for Friday’s Game 4!

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A lifelong hockey addict, Matt has been fortunate enough to make his career in his sport of choice, working in high school, juniors, college and the pros in various multimedia roles. Previous to joining PHN, Matt was a credentialed Penguins/NHL beat reporter for the past two seasons, including coverage of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He signed on with PHN in Feb. 2018 as co-owner, contributing commentary and analysis in various forms.

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