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Habs avoid season sweep by Pens; move into tie for seventh in east

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Playing their fifth game in seven nights and
coming off two emotional wins against their national rivals, the
Montreal Canadiens were facing the classic "trap game" scenario
against the team with the NHL's worst record.

BBut Montreal didn't fall for the trap, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-5 on Sunday night to avoid being swept in the season
series.

"We've got to be happy with the two points," forward Radek Bonk said. "We had a lot of games this week and to get two points
in the last game is huge."

Chris Higgins and Alex Kovalev each had two goals, and Saku Koivu had three assists for the Canadiens, who have won three in a
row and four of five to move into a seventh-place tie with the New
Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference standings.

"We were a little tired but it was a big week for us," Higgins
said. "When we looked at the schedule, we sat down as a team and
decided we wanted to pick up as many points as we could because
there's a lot of riding on every game we play right now."

Colby Armstrong had two goals, and Sidney Crosby added two
assists for the Penguins, who also got a goal from Noah Welch -- his
first in the NHL.

Montreal split games with the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders on Monday and Tuesday, and the Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in back-to-back contests Thursday and Saturday nights.

"Keeping the same emotion and energy we had against Toronto
definitely was hard to do," Kovalev said. "But it's something we
had to try to do because we still need to play better and better
each night to make the playoffs."

Higgins' first goal came on a power play 4:24 into the game off
assists from Michael Ryder and Koivu.

Radek Bonk scored 31 seconds later and the Canadiens, who were
0-3 against the Penguins this season, took a 2-0 lead into the
first intermission. From there, the teams alternated goals.

"We wanted to get a good start, but I don't think we've had the
best first period the last couple of games," Crosby said. "I'm
sure it's something we thought about a little bit more, knowing the
intensity they were going to play with being an important game for
them. We knew they were going to play hard. I think we just tried
to match that."

Armstrong scored his first on the power play 41 seconds into the
second period, but Higgins netted his 16th 2:33 later. Armstrong
also had a short-handed goal that brought Pittsburgh to 4-3 later
in the contest.

Tomas Surovy cut the Penguins' deficit to 3-2 with a power-play
goal. He converted his third whack at a puck in front of goalie
David Aebischer.

Kovalev scored the first of his two second-period, power-play
goals less than 5 minutes after that.

"They were down and they came back," Bonk said. "Give them
credit; they work hard."

Playing in his second career game, Welch had his second assist.
He also put the puck in the net twice -- but the first was into his
own cage.

Kovalev was credited with his second of the game with 20 seconds
to go in the second period when his centering pass from behind the
goal line was deflected by Welch into the top left corner of the
net past Marc-Andre Fleury to give Montreal a 5-3 lead.

"It's unfortunate, but it was an honest mistake," Welch said.
"I was anxious as a defensive player to clear the puck into the
corner, so I just reacted to quick. It was on my mind to create a
scoring chance or get an assist [to make up for the self goal] and
I was just happy to get that first goal."

Welch's legitimate goal 1:39 into the final period when his shot
from the left point got through traffic. The official scorers took
an extended amount of time to see if it was tipped on its way in,
but Welch -- who made his debut Friday against the New York
Islanders -- was given credit for his first goal.

Armstrong had a hat trick negated when it was ruled he
intentionally directed a puck into the net with his hand with about
12 minutes to play.

"They scored some power play goals on us early and that
definitely hurt us," Armstrong said. "We battled back and we were
right there. I think we had our chances, but we fell asleep a
little bit in the first there. It's too bad we got so close to tie
it up [but couldn't]."

Ryder and Pittsburgh's John LeClair traded goals late.

"It wasn't pretty," said Aebischer. "But it was two points."

The Penguins, who are 41-104-23 against Montreal, have never
swept a season series from the Canadiens.

"It just shows how competitive this league is that anyone is
good enough to beat anyone on any night," Koivu said. We talked
about how we had lost to them three times already and we didn't
want that to happen again. These two points are just as important
as two points we get from Toronto or anyone else."

Game notes
Koivu has at least one assist in three consecutive games.
Higgins, Ryder, Sheldon Souray, Bonk and Mathieu Dandenault also
extended scoring streaks to three games. ... Pittsburgh D Sergei
Gonchar has 24 points in his last 23 games. ... The only times the
Penguins didn't lose a game in a season series against the
Canadiens were 1992-93 and 1998-99, when they went 2-0-1 and 3-0-1.
... The Carolina Hurricanes are the only Eastern Conference team
Montreal has not beaten this season.