MONTREAL -- Used to be that a bad game would rattle Marc-Andre Fleury, causing him to follow it with one that wasn't much better.
Not anymore, though.
He proved that again Tuesday night, when he did just about everything possible to earn a victory for the Penguins against Montreal at the Bell Centre.
He turned aside 28 of 30 shots in regulation, then five of eight in the shootout that decided the game.
- 1. Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens C: shootout goal
- 2. Louis Leblanc, Canadiens C: 1 goal
- 3. Carey Price, Canadiens G: 32 saves
But none of those saves -- many of them acrobatic and exceptional -- made a difference because Montreal claimed a 3-2 victory.
It was the third loss in the past four games for the Penguins (30-19-5), who are tied with New Jersey for fifth in the Eastern Conference. It also was the third loss -- only one of which has come in regulation -- for Fleury in the past 12 he has played immediately after being pulled from a game as he was Sunday in the Penguins 5-2 loss in New Jersey.
He was not always able to rebound so quickly, and so well. Fact is, the first nine times in his career Fleury was pulled from a game, he lost his next start.
Now, he nearly always rebounds well, which he did against the Canadiens.
"[Fleury] was great again," Penguins winger James Neal said. "Huge saves at the right times. It's tough when you don't pull one out in the shootout for him because he made some great saves."
It is one Fleury did not make that might stay with him for a while.
Early in the third period, not long after Pascal Dupuis had scored a short-handed goal to tie the score, 1-1, Lars Eller of the Canadiens carried the puck across the blue line on the left side, then threw a harmless-looking shot toward the net.
It got past Fleury's outstretched leg, then caromed off the right post. That bit of good fortune for Fleury turned very bad when the puck then bounced off him and into the net to put the Canadiens in front, 2-1.
The Penguins got that goal back when Neal scored his 28th, a career high, at 7:32, but they never did get a lead. Not, Dupuis said, that Eller's goal decided the outcome.
"We came back," he said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win that game."
Montreal had several leads over the course of the night and moved in front to stay in Round 8 of the shootout, when Tomas Plekanec beat Fleury and Canadiens goalie Carey Price preserved the victory by stopping Jason Williams, who had been recalled from the Penguins' team in Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day.
Plekanec's goal and the stop on Williams guaranteed that the Penguins would not post a 4-0 mark against Montreal in the season series for the first time in franchise history.
Louis Leblanc of Montreal broke a scoreless tie at 11:21 of the second period, when he beat Fleury from inside the right circle.
That was an ominous portent for the Penguins, who are now 1-11 in their past 12 road games when giving up the first goal.
Fleury wasn't shaken and, with less than two minutes to go in the period, turned in perhaps the best of his many outstanding saves. Canadiens winger Erik Cole had an uncontested chance from the inner edge of the right circle, but Fleury managed to get his glove on it to keep the Penguins within a goal.
Dupuis pulled them even 63 seconds into the third when he drove to the net, and Joe Vitale's centering pass from the right side hit his right skate and got by Price.
But at 3:00, Eller put the Canadiens back on top with his improbable goal, and the Penguins were not able to counter until 7:32, when Neal whipped a shot by Price from the inner edge of the left circle for what proved to be the final goal of regulation and overtime.
In the shootout, Rene Bourque scored for Montreal in the first round, Evgeni Malkin for the Penguins in the second.
Fleury and Price stopped everyone until Round 5, when Eller and Chris Kunitz traded goals.
Plekanec, though, got the deciding goal to kick off the eighth round.
Fleury, among the most media-friendly of the Penguins, still had not appeared at his locker well after the game, so his thoughts are unknown.
His teammates, though, were understandably unhappy about losing to the Canadiens, a team anchored well below them in the standings.
"It's unfortunate," Dupuis said.
"But I guess we'll have to deal with it."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG First Published February 8, 2012 5:00 AM