Letang overcomes broken nose, scores OT winner

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MONTREAL -- Kris Letang did not know what hit him.

And he certainly did not know who hit him.

Did not seem to care much, either.

Because just minutes after Montreal forward Max Pacioretty had knocked him out of the game with a nasty hit that gave Letang a bloodied, broken nose -- and might well result in a suspension for Pacioretty -- Letang scored the winning overtime goal in the Penguins' 4-3 victory against the Canadiens at the Bell Center Saturday night.

The victory gave the Penguins (14-6-4) two wins in a row for just the second time since late October.

Letang capped the Penguins' comeback from a 3-1 deficit at 2:09 of overtime, after Canadiens goalie Carey Price had stopped winger James Neal on a backhander after Neal had skated toward the net backward.

The play appeared to be over at that point -- Price certainly thought it was -- but the puck was fished free, and Letang tossed it past Price.

"It was a great play by him," Neal said.

Especially considering that Letang was just minutes removed from having his broken nose put back into place and from passing a test designed to determine if he had gotten a concussion.

Letang had left the game with 3:14 to go in the third period and the score tied, 3-3, after Pacioretty caught him with his head down in the middle of the ice and drove his shoulder into Letang's face.

"It was a tough decision for me, and a tough decision for him, too," Pacioretty said. "If I let him take that shot, it could be in the back of our net."

He did, however, seek out Letang to apologize for the hit because "I felt terrible about what happened."

So did Letang, obviously, although he did not seem concerned that he had been severely injured after he had adjourned to the locker room.

"I lost my breath," Letang said. "I was just trying to figure out what happened."

Letang said he was not surprised that he was able to return to the game, but at least a few of his teammates were.

"[Letang] is a tough guy," center Jordan Staal said. "From the bench, it looked like a hard hit. When you see a guy like that go down, you know it's going to be a tough one to come back from."

Letang's heroics might not have been necessary if Chris Kunitz had not had a couple of apparent goals disallowed earlier.

Sixty-four seconds into the second period, a centering pass by Sidney Crosby from along the right-wing boards hit Kunitz in front of the net and caromed behind Price, but a video review determined that Kunitz had knocked the puck in with a gloved hand, a violation of Rule 67.6.

"I thought it was up here," Kunitz said, gesturing toward his chest.

Then, with the Penguins trying to mount a rally, he had another one waved off at 3:57 of the third.

Kunitz got a shorthanded breakaway and, after taking his shot, put his right leg between Price's legs. The puck ended up in the net, but the goal was waved off immediately.

"I got tangled with him," Kunitz said. "It's one of those plays, I guess."

The Penguins had taken a 1-0 lead on an Evgeni Malkin goal 21 seconds into the game, but Montreal countered with unanswered goals by Travis Moen, Pacioretty and Erik Cole to take a 3-1 lead.

The Penguins finally stopped the Canadiens' run when Pascal Dupuis drove a turning slap shot past Price from the slot at 16:40 of the second period, and Staal forced overtime when Malkin sprung him behind the Montreal defense and Staal threw a shot past Price high on the stick side at 15:30 of the third.

Until Staal scored, it looked as if Price might steal a couple of points for his team -- "He was making some great saves," Dupuis said -- although Staal insisted that the Penguins never got frustrated.

"We had a lot of shots, a lot of opportunities," Staal said. "We were playing the way we want to play. We felt that if we kept going at them and doing the right things, we'd find a way to score that goal."

They did, of course, and Letang found a way to score one of his own once overtime arrived.

"It made for a good story," coach said Dan Bylsma said. "Him coming back after the hit and scoring the goal."

NOTES -- Bylsma defended Crosby's elbow to the face of Ottawa's Nick Foligno in the Penguins' 6-3 victory Friday night, saying Foligno had "bumped into our goalie three times" in what was a 5-1 game at the time. Crosby said that what he did was "totally different from putting an elbow in a guy's face coming across the middle."


• Game: Penguins at New York Rangers, Madison Square Garden.

• When: 7:38 p.m. Tuesday.

• TV: Root Sports.

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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