MONTREAL (AP) — Antti Niemi felt good after his first start of the season — and a win.
Niemi made 25 saves, and Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin scored in the shootout to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
Niemi, getting the start with Carey Price out with the flu, also stopped both shots in the shootout — on Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
“It was a tough first half, didn’t see many pucks and I gave up a few goals,” Niemi said. “Not what you normally want to see. In the third, I started seeing a few more pucks and I was feeling good.
“I have to be really happy with my night.”
With the score tied 3-3, the Canadiens’ goalie made 14 stops in the third period and another three in a frantic overtime period that saw Montreal fail to score on a 4-on-3 power play.
After Byron scored first in the shootout for Montreal, Niemi forced Malkin to the outside and completely took away his shooting angle. Following Drouin’s goal, Crosby needed to score to send it to a third round but the Penguins’ captain found Niemi’s glove instead.
“Stay with them, get a good gap and go from there,” Niemi said of his shootout saves. “Nothing special.”
Tomas Tatar had two goals and an assist, and Brendan Gallagher had a goal and an assist for the Canadiens.
Dominik Simon, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel scored in regulation for the Penguins, and Casey DeSmith had 37 saves through overtime.
Making the 13th start of his NHL career, the 27-year-old DeSmith made big saves when it mattered most to help Pittsburgh earn a point.
With seven minutes left in the game, DeSmith robbed Artturi Lehkonen twice to keep the teams tied. In overtime, DeSmith frustrated Max Domi from in close.
“That was wild,” said DeSmith, who made 35 saves in a 4-2 win over Vegas on Thursday. “Really exciting game for the fans. Happy we got a point but I hate losing as much as everyone else. I was seeing the puck really well tonight. Happy with how my game’s progressing.”
Added Penguins coach Mike Sullivan of his goalie: “I thought he was terrific.”
Montreal also defeated Pittsburgh 5-1 last Saturday.
Simon and Letang scored in the first period to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead. Daniel Sprong fed Simon in front of the goal with a one-handed scoop pass and the 24-year-old beat Niemi on the backhand at 3:13. Letang doubled Pittsburgh’s lead with 4:44 left with a shot on Niemi’s blocker side.
The Canadiens came out buzzing in the second period, scoring three straight goals before Kessel tied it again. Montreal outshot Pittsburgh 19-4 in the second.
Just 11 seconds into the middle period, Tatar beat Letang to a loose puck in front of the net, then fired past DeSmith for his first in a Canadiens uniform.
Gallagher tied it 2-2 at 7:38 after jumping on a rebound of Jeff Petry’s point shot.
Tatar got his second of the game, on the power play, by firing the puck off DeSmith and in from the side of the net at 8:51 to push Montreal ahead.
“We knew we weren’t good enough in the first and we talked about how we needed to be better,” said Tatar, who joined Montreal in the offseason trade that sent former captain Max Pacioretty to Vegas. “We got a pretty good jump at the start of the second period.
“Everyone played well in the second period and we had a lot of pressure. We all deserve the credit.”
With the Penguins on a man advantage, Kessel made it 3-3 from the slot at 11:14.
Montreal failed to score on a 5-on-3 power play that lasted 1:49 to end the second period.
It looked like the Canadiens had taken a 4-3 lead in the third period when defenseman Victor Mete put the puck past DeSmith, but the goal was called back for goaltender interference on Andrew Shaw after a challenge by Sullivan.
NOTES: Montreal also had a goal overturned in its previous, also due to goalie interference against Shaw, in its 3-0 loss to Los Angeles. … Pittsburgh D Justin Schultz left the game in the first period and did not return. Schultz’s leg folded awkwardly as fell to the ice after taking a hit by Tomas Plekanec, who was making his 999th career start.
Penguins: Host Vancouver on Tuesday night.
Canadiens: Host Detroit on Monday night.