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Crosby, Guentzel have four points apiece to power Penguins past Canadiens 5-1

MONTREAL — Pittsburgh's star players stepped up on Saturday night as the playoff race in the Eastern Conference continues to heat up.

MONTREAL — Pittsburgh's star players stepped up on Saturday night as the playoff race in the Eastern Conference continues to heat up.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel each had four-point performances and Matt Murray made 36 saves as the Pittsburgh Penguins earned a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

Both the Penguins (34-22-9) and Canadiens (35-24-7) now have 77 points in the standings. Pittsburgh jumped into the first wild-card spot while Montreal dropped down into the second.

"Murray was terrific in goal and Sid had a monster night. His line was really good," said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. "Throughout the lineup it was a good, solid effort.

"(Crosby) is the best 200-foot player in the game. 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."

Crosby scored and added three assists while Guentzel scored two goals and had two assists. Evgeni Malkin and Jared McCann, into the empty net, also scored for Pittsburgh.

Brendan Gallagher scored the only goal for the Canadiens while Carey Price gave up four goals on 24 shots. Price remains one victory away from tying Jacques Plante's franchise record with 314.

The Canadiens were hardly outclassed on Saturday night, outshooting the Pens 37-25, but the score line certainly didn't reflect that.

"We did have a push," said Gallagher, who scored his team-leading 29th of the season. "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."

Pittsburgh jumped to an early 3-0 lead on its first four shots of the game.

They needed just 21 seconds to beat Price after a bad giveaway by Jordie Benn in his own zone led to Crosby's deflected goal.

The visitors doubled their lead on the power play when Malkin's slapshot changed course on a Joel Armia deflection at 4:38.

Pittsburgh finished 1 for 3 with the man advantage.

Guentzel went five-hole on Price at 8:51 right after a face-off win by Crosby for his first goal of the night and 30th of the season.

"You want to get out and get a good start like that," said Guentzel, who reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career. "Especially in their building. It was key for us to come out and do that."

The Pens 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 his hat trick while on a breakaway in the second but Price made a nice glove save.

Gallagher beat Murray with a shot from inside the left face-off circle at 7:20 of the second.

Montreal made a push in the third period, firing 15 shots on Murray but the Pens goalie would not be beaten.

McCann added the empty-netter with 1:24 left in the game.

Crosby had a hand in four of his team's goals. The Pens captain has 10 points on his current four-game scoring streak. Crosby also moved into second place on Pittsburgh's all-time scoring list with his 440th career tally.

"This time of year, you're motivated every night for sure," said Crosby, who is one point shy of 1,200 in his career. "Everyone is just trying to raise their game. Sometimes it goes like that for you. You want to keep that going but right now it's all about getting wins."

Notes: It was the second of back-to-back games for both teams. Pittsburgh lost 4-3 in overtime in Buffalo on Friday while Montreal defeated the New York Rangers 4-2.

Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press

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