Letang scores redemption in overtime

Rob Rossi
| Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011

MONTREAL -- Kris Letang was bloodied but not concussed before he knocked the wind out of the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night in the Penguins' 4-3 overtime victory at Bell Centre.

About two minutes after center Jordan Staal pulled the Penguins even to complete a comeback from a two-goal deficit, Letang, the club's top defenseman, was caught with a blindside hit in the offensive zone by Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty.

His nose dripping blood, Letang was assisted off the ice by teammates. He was taken to a dark room and examined by a physician, per the NHL's fresh head injury protocol. He said he passed a concussion test.

Near the midpoint of overtime, Letang stuffed a puck, presumed frozen by Canadiens goalie Carey Price, through the blue paint of the crease and into the back of the cage to cap an energized contest in the city Letang calls home during the offseason.

"It made for one heck of a story line," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

This story line seemingly overshadowed the first NHL game played in his native Canada by Penguins center Sidney Crosby since the day after last Christmas.

Crosby assisted on center Evgeni Malkin's opening goal 21 seconds into the contest. He has eight points in four games since returning Monday from a nearly 11-month absence because of a concussion.

That is a pace for 124 points. At this rate, Crosby could claim the NHL scoring lead by the day before this Christmas.

SOME KINDA START
Hard to believe that Penguins C Sidney Crosby only started playing games against this past Monday. A look back at his first week of NHL action in almost 11 months:
Date Opponent Goals-Assists-Points
Monday Islanders 2-2-4
Wednesday Blues 0-0-0
Friday Senators 0-3-0
Saturday night at Canadiens 0-1-1
Source: Nhl.com

Letang may still be breathing with slight discomfort by then, too.

He said his nose was broken by the hit from Pacioretty, who was not penalized after delivering an apparent shoulder to Letang's face with about three minutes remaining in regulation.

Pacioretty apologized to Letang after the game and explained that he went for the cut-across-the-ice hit because Letang was free to shoot on Price.

"If I let him take that shot, he might have put it in the back of the net," Pacioretty said. "It's a tough decision for me."

As of late last night, there was no indication from the NHL whether the hit would be reviewed for supplemental discipline.

Letang lauded Pacioretty's postgame apology. Pacioretty said he remains sensitive to headshots because of his own experience in receiving one in March from Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. Pacioretty was taken from the ice on a stretcher after that hit by Chara, who was not suspended.

This victory by the Penguins (14-6-4, 32 points) required some suspended belief.

They trailed, 3-1, before right wing Pascal Dupuis' sixth goal late in the second period. Through most of the third, Price was stout - and a few times spectacular - for the Canadiens.

Staal's 12th goal, which placed him second on the club and one behind right wing James Neal in that category, changed the scope. He scored it while skating with Malkin, who assisted and has quietly accrued eight points since Crosby's return.

"That comeback feeling is there, that we're never really out of a game and there's always an opportunity to win games," Staal said.

With Malkin (22 points) climbing in the scoring race, and Neal and Staal each top-15 goal scorers, and Letang (19 points, plus-8 rating) a Norris Trophy candidate, that comeback feeling is easy to have for the Penguins.

Especially with Crosby back in the fold.

"We haven't really dominated games," Staal said.

There have 57 games left to get working on that.

HOW THEY SCORED

First period

Penguins, 1-0 (0:21): C Evgeni Malkin won positioning with Canadiens RW Brian Gionta at the crease and swept in a rebound off a shot from LW Chris Kunitz.

Canadiens, 1-1 (1:48): LW Travis Moen sent a shot through traffic from near the right boards. Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury could not track it with his glove hand.

Canadiens, 2-1 (7:31): LW Max Pacioretty whipped a shot past Fleury after less-than-stellar defensive-zone play from Penguins Ds Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek.

Second period

Canadiens, 3-1 (11:09) LW Erik Cole took a pass from Pacioretty in the slot and fired a shot off the post that bounced off Fleury's leg and into the net.

Penguins, 3-2 (16:40): Martin made a terrific play at the blue line to push the puck forward to RW Pascal Dupuis, who fired a spinning shot that beat G Carey Price while C Sidney Crosby was creating a screen.

Third period

Penguins, 3-3 (15:30): C Jordan Staal snuck onto the ice behind the Montreal defense, received a pass from Malkin and beat Price with a forehand move on a breakaway for his 12th goal.

Overtime

Penguins, 4-3 (2:09): D Kris Letang, minutes after leaving the ice with a possible head injury, returned to ignite an overtime rush and ultimately snagged a loose puck and scored following a wild scramble in front of Price.

Additional Information:

Heads up

Canadiens LW Max Pacioretty's hit on Penguins D Kris Letang in the third period Saturday night raised the issue of blindside hits in the NHL. A look at Rule 48 for an illegal check to the head:

-- 48.1 Illegal Check to the Head - A hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.

-- 48.2 Minor Penalty - For violation of this rule, a minor penalty shall be assessed.

-- 48.5 Match Penalty - The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head. If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the commissioner at his discretion.

Source: NHL 2011-12 Rule Book

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