The Montreal Canadiens rallied with three straight goals to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in Game 3 and take the lead in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Wednesday.
Shea Weber had one goal and two assists, and Carey Price made 30 saves for the Canadiens, the No. 12 seed in the Eastern Conference. They are one win from returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2017.
“We were playing well 5-on-5. That just kept us competitive and guys battled hard, no matter what the situation was tonight,” Weber said. “And in the playoffs, that’s what you need. You need just to stay even keel, whether you’re up or down. I thought tonight was the best so far we’ve been in the series like that.”
Matt Murray made 27 saves for Pittsburgh, the No. 5 seed. Sidney Crosby had an assist after scoring a goal in each of the first two games.
“I think when you get to this situation, you have things throughout the year that prepare you for it,” Crosby said. “Adversity that you face and things like that. I think you draw on that. Ultimately, it’s just about going out there and focusing on one game.”
Game 4 is in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, on Friday (4 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS, ATTSN-PT). The series winner advances to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The loser will have a 12.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Monday.
Teams that win Game 3 after a series is tied 1-1 are 21-7 (75 percent) winning a best-of-5 NHL series (14-2 when last used from 1980-86).
Montreal was 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, and 24th in the NHL standings this season. No team has ever made the Stanley Cup Playoffs finishing worse than 10th in its conference (Hartford Whalers in 1988 were 10th) or 20th in the NHL (Whalers in 1992 and Toronto Maple Leafs in 1988 were 20th).
“It’s important that we build some confidence here with our group,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “I think that’s what you’re seeing. I thought we had lots of confidence even when we took that lead [in the third period], we kept trying to play the game.”
Jonathan Drouin deflected a shot from Ben Chiarot, cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 3-2 at 10:13 of the second, and Paul Byron tied it 3-3 on a wraparound at 15:50 of that period.
Jeff Petry gave the Canadiens a 4-3 lead with a sharp-angle shot at 5:33 of the third period. The defenseman scored with 6:03 remaining in overtime of Montreal’s 3-2 win in Game 1,
“I don’t think we changed our game plan in any way,” Petry said. “I think it was more a matter of executing our system and we showed it in the later part of Game 1 and toward the end of Game 2. It was our focus to make sure we did it for a full game.”
The Penguins scored three straight goals after Weber put the Canadiens ahead 1-0 on a wrist shot at 4:57 of the first period.
Patric Hornqvist tied it 1-1 on a power play at 8:40 of the first before Jason Zucker scored another power-play goal, giving the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 9:39 of that period. Pittsburgh was 2-for-3 on the power play after scoring once on 12 chances in the first two games.
Teddy Blueger made it 3-1 at 5:34 of the second period on a rebound.
“I think we just kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit,” Blueger said. “Then momentum shifted. They were able to get those two goals. … Just kind of couldn’t find a way back, couldn’t find a way to climb back into it.
“Tough to pinpoint one thing. I think we just didn’t defend hard enough.”
Crosby had an assist on Hornqvist’s goal, moving him past Doug Gilmour and Joe Sakic into eighth place in NHL postseason points with 189 (68 goals, 121 assists) in 167 games.
Canadiens rookie forward Jake Evans left his NHL postseason debut with 7:18 remaining in the second period after Tanev hit him into the boards. No update was provided.
Penguins rookie forward Sam Lafferty had four hits in 7:40 in what was also his NHL postseason debut. He replaced Jared McCann, who was a healthy scratch, at third-line center.
Pittsburgh has lost eight of its past nine postseason games since defeating the Washington Capitals 3-1 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on May 3, 2018.
“I would expect us to have a lot of urgency,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “Your back’s against the wall. You’ve got to win. It’s win or go home. Our guys understand what’s at stake. We’ve been here before. We just have to make sure we bring our best game.”
NHL.com columnist Dave Stubbs contributed to this report