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Pittsburgh Penguins crush Montreal Canadians 4-1

Pittsburgh Penguins' Rickard Rakell (67) trips over the stick of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Pittsburgh Penguins' Rickard Rakell (67) trips over the stick of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Bryan Rust and Drew O'Conner scored 21 seconds apart in the second period to break open a close game and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave their flagging postseason hopes a boost with a 4-1 win over the reeling Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.

Pittsburgh, which began the day eight points out of a wild-card spot in the jumbled Eastern Conference with less than two months to go in the regular season, won for just the second time in its last seven games behind 31 saves from Tristan Jarry.

Mike Matheson collected his eighth goal of the season for Montreal. Cayden Primeau stopped 23 shots but the Canadiens lost for the sixth time in seven games.

Kris Letang atoned for a costly turnover that led to Matheson's goal by scoring twice for the Penguins, who are hoping to provide first-year general manager/director of hockey operations Kyle Dubas a reason to bolster the roster before the March 8 trade deadline.

Pittsburgh will need a solid stretch to do it, something that's been hard to come by during an uneven season in which consistency has been elusive. The Penguins began a pivotal four-game homestand by l etting Los Angeles rally for a win on Sunday just hours after Pittsburgh retired former star Jaromir Jagr's No. 68.

They fell again in overtime against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, though they pointed to a late comeback that forced the extra period as proof the NHL's oldest team isn't ready to wave the white flag on the season.

The momentum continued against the struggling Canadiens. Just over two minutes after a wayward pass from Letang to Sidney Crosby ended up on Matheson's stick and then in the back of the net for a 1-0 lead 9:05 into the game, Letang floated a shot from the point that made its way through traffic and into the far side of the net to tie it.

It was the kind of “put the puck on goal and see what happens” kind of play Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan has been preaching needs to become commonplace for a team that began the day 25th in the league in scoring.

Another long shot from the point by Erik Karlsson moments into a second-period power play ended with Rust deflecting it between Primeau's legs just past the game's midway point to put Pittsburgh in front. O'Connor followed shortly thereafter by rifling a shot by Primeau while gliding down the slot, giving O'Connor five points in his last five games.

Forward Colin White began the day by participating in Pittsburgh's morning skate, then suited up for the Canadiens after Montreal claimed him off waivers.

White, who did not register a point in 11 games with Pittsburgh, skated 10:26 for the Canadiens and created a decent scoring chance in the first period that was turned aside by Jarry.

Pittsburgh gave its roster a jolt of youth when the Penguins acquired forward Emil Bemstrom from Columbus in exchange for forward Alex Nylander and a conditional 2026 sixth-round draft pick.

Bemstrom, 24, had five goals and six assists in 32 games with the Blue Jackets this season

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