MONTREAL -- The Penguins had read all the stories about Montreal's epic comeback two nights earlier and had seen all the highlights.
So if they didn't know every last detail of how the Canadiens had rallied from a 5-0 deficit to defeat the New York Rangers, 6-5, at the Bell Centre, it wasn't because they hadn't been exposed to them.
Still, even when Montreal scored twice early in the third period last night to transform a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead, the Penguins never feared they were reliving the nightmare the Rangers had gone through.
Which probably is the main reason they were able to pull out the 5-4 victory that raised their record to 34-21-5 and moved them back into a tie with New Jersey for first place in the Atlantic Division. Both teams trail Ottawa by one point in the race for first place in the Eastern Conference.
"When you're playing a hockey game, if you start thinking about what happened in a previous game, or that it might happen again, it's not going to be good for you," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "You have to concentrate on what you're doing."
That couldn't have been easy with the crowd of 21,273 roaring its approval of Montreal's third-period surge, but the Penguins found a way. The goal Roman Hamrlik scored to put Montreal in front at 3:25 of the third was the last one the Canadiens would get.
"Everyone was upset that they came out and took the lead, but the guys stayed resilient," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "We drew some penalties, and there were some nice plays made."
One of the nicest, and most important, came midway through the period, 15 seconds after Evgeni Malkin had finished serving a high-sticking minor.
Ryan Malone sprung him on a breakaway with a long lead pass -- "I just tried to get it to him as fast as I could," Malone said -- and Malkin beat Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet to tie the score, 4-4, at 10:22.
Twenty-one seconds later, Canadiens winger Alex Kovalev was penalized for interference. He barely had settled in the penalty box when Gonchar lashed in a slap shot from above the right circle for the winner.
"I knew there was traffic, so I tried to deliver it to the net as soon as I could to make sure the goalie didn't see it," Gonchar said.
The goal, which came at 10:58, was his 600th point in the NHL.
"I've been fortunate enough to play with good players in Washington and here," Gonchar said. "And fortunate enough to stay healthy. Those are the two most important things."
Getting No. 600 was a major achievement for Gonchar. Picking up three more was just another night at the office for Malkin, who raised his league-leading total to 82.
"He's just playing up to his potential," Gonchar said. "It's not a surprise."
Whitney gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 6:46 of the opening period, when he beat Huet with a wrist shot from just inside the blue line for his 12th of the season and Jarkko Ruutu made it 2-0 when he slid a shot between Huet's legs from the left circle at 18:47 for his second of the season -- and the week.
Saku Koivu pulled Montreal to within one at 3:27 of the second, but Malone got that one back for the Penguins during a power play at 6:59. He punched a Petr Sykora rebound between Huet's legs from the left side of the crease for his 20th.
The Canadiens, who entered the evening with the NHL's most efficient power play, countered with a man-advantage goal at 18:07. Chris Higgins, stationed a few feet in front of the crease, deflected a Kovalev feed past goalie Dany Sabourin.
That goal generated momentum that carried through the intermission, as the Canadiens scored twice early in the third to take the lead.
Michael Ryder tied the score, 3-3, 21 seconds into the period by beating Sabourin from low in the left circle and Hamrlik then gave Montreal its only lead.
Hamrlik's goal was one of two the Canadiens got with the man-advantage. The key for the Penguins was holding Montreal to three chances with the extra man.
"We tried to stay out of the box," Whitney said. "That was definitely something we talked about before the game with a power play that good."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published February 22, 2008 5:00 AM