MONTREAL — Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins started quickly and then just kept going against the Montreal Canadiens.
Crosby had a goal and three assists, Jake Guentzel scored two goals and had two assists and the Penguins cruised to a 5-1 victory Saturday night.
Evgeni Malkin and Jared McCann — into an empty net — also scored for the Penguins, and Matt Murray stopped 36 of 37 shots.
“Murray was terrific in goal, and Sid had a monster night,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His line was really good. Throughout the lineup, it was a good, solid effort.”
The Penguins and Canadiens have 77 points in the standings. Pittsburgh is in the first wild-card spot with the victory, and Montreal dropped to the second slot.
“You want to get out and get a good start like that,” said Guentzel, who reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time. “Especially in their building. It was key for us to come out and do that.”
Brendan Gallagher scored the only goal for the Canadiens. Carey Price gave up four goals on 24 shots and remained one victory away from tying Jacques Plante’s franchise record with 314.
“We did have a push,” said Gallagher, who scored his team-leading 29th. “We had some breakaways. We hit some posts. Looking back, if we just get one of those to go in, maybe we get some momentum going, and they tighten up a little. It’s a big win for them and a bad loss for us.
“We’re in a tight race here. There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We didn’t get the result, so we move on to the next one.”
It was the second of back-to-back games for both teams. The Penguins lost 4-3 in overtime in Buffalo on Friday, and Montreal defeated the New York Rangers, 4-2.
The Canadiens outshot the Penguins, 37-25, but the Pens took better advantage of their chances and jumped out to an early 3-0 lead on its first four shots of the game.
The Penguins needed just 21 seconds to beat Price after a bad giveaway by Jordie Benn in his own zone led to Crosby’s deflected goal.
“(Crosby) is the best 200-foot player in the game,” Sullivan said. “He plays on both sides of the puck. And he understands the stakes are high at this time of year, and he’s doing everything he can to help us win.”
The Penguins doubled their lead on the power play when Malkin’s slap shot changed course on a deflection by Joel Armia at 4:38.
Pittsburgh finished 1 for 3 with the man advantage.
Guentzel went five-hole on Price at 8:51 right after a faceoff win by Crosby for his first goal of the night and 30th of the season, his first time reaching the milestone.
The Penguins went the next 11:09 of the first period without firing a shot on net but still led 3-0 at intermission.
Guentzel netted his second of the game 6:24 into the second period with a precise wrist shot into the top corner of the net.
Pittsburgh’s leading scorer nearly completed a hat trick late while on a breakaway in the second, but Price made a nice glove save.
The Canadiens scored their only goal when Gallagher beat Murray with a shot from inside the left face-off circle.
McCann added the empty-netter with 1:24 left.