MONTREAL -- Coach Dan Bylsma knew going in that a lot of things could happen in the Penguins' game against Montreal Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
Having 13 goals scored didn't come close to making the list.
"I was more expecting to gut one out at 2-1 or 3-2," Bylsma said. "Not a 7-6 game."
What made that bloated score palatable to the Penguins is that they were the ones who finished with seven, as center Brandon Sutter threw a wrist shot past Canadiens goalie Carey Price from the right hash mark 52 seconds into overtime.
That allowed the Penguins to salvage two points from a trip that began with uninspired losses at Florida and Carolina.
What it didn't do was remove the specter of the leaky team defense they have developed. They gave up 16 goals, a solid majority at even-strength, over the past three games.
"That's about probably 10 too many, by our standards," Sutter said. "It's something we have to work on, but finding ways to win a game like that is big."
Showing the kind of resilience the Penguins did in rebounding from no fewer than three deficits is an obvious plus -- "We never gave up at any point," left winger Chris Kunitz said -- but not getting into a position where such a display of character is necessary is better.
The Penguins (14-8) faced the Canadiens without defenseman Paul Martin, who has not played since the second period of their 4-1 loss Thursday at Carolina.
He went through a dryland workout after the Penguins' game-day skate, however, and Bylsma did not rule out the possibility of Martin returning Monday when Tampa Bay visits Consol Energy Center.
"I don't have what the probability is," Bylsma said. "He'll possibly skate [today] or [Monday]. We'll see."
Martin's place in the lineup was taken by Mark Eaton, who made his first appearance since signing with the Penguins Feb. 25. Defenseman Simon Despres rejoined the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous two games, replacing Robert Bortuzzo.
Brandon Prust put Montreal in front, 1-0, at 5:41 of the opening period with the first of many rebound goals, but the Penguins pulled even on a power-play goal with 52.5 seconds left in the period. A Kris Letang pass hit the skate of Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin and went directly to Sutter, who threw it into a mostly open net.
After Max Pacioretty converted a Brendan Gallagher rebound to put Montreal back on top at 4:14 of the second, the Penguins ran off three unanswered goals.
Kunitz banked a shot off Price and into the net from behind the goal line at 7:58, Matt Cooke scored from near the top of the left circle at 8:29 and Cooke struck again at 13:05.
But even before the Penguins got to consider the possibility of taking a two-goal lead into the final period, Brian Gionta deflected a shot past Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun at 17:37.
Then, with seven-tenths of a second to go before intermission, defenseman P.K. Subban beat Vokoun from the left side of the crease to tie it, although the Penguins insisted that wasn't the punch to the gut it appeared to be.
"You'd think it would be more deflating than it was," center Sidney Crosby said. "We bounced back pretty well in the third and kept coming."
True, but David Desharnais put Montreal in front, 5-4, at 5:25, capitalizing on yet another rebound, although the Penguins didn't wilt then, either. Kunitz re-tied the score at 8:33, and Crosby put the Penguins in front -- albeit not for very long -- at 10:24. Just 30 seconds later, Gionta put a slap shot past Vokoun from the right point, putting the game into a true next-goal-wins situation.
And it turned out that Sutter scored it before the first minute of overtime had expired, putting an exclamation point on perhaps his finest performance of the season.
"That was probably one of his strongest games," Bylsma said.
His teammates showed some significant strengths, too. They proved that they can overcome adversity, and that they can trade goals to stay in a game when circumstances make it necessary.
What they have to do now is re-establish their defensive game because their problems in their own end have become numerous and significant. Opponents are operating with impunity around their goalie, and, if that doesn't change, the Penguins' habit of early exits from the playoffs likely won't, either.
"We have to find a way to keep the puck out of our net," Crosby said. "There were some tonight that were some unfortunate bounces, but we still can't expect to win games letting in that many goals."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published March 3, 2013 5:00 AM