Pittsburgh Penguins' Drew O'Connor (10) begins to celebrate his goal...

Pittsburgh Penguins' Drew O'Connor (10) begins to celebrate his goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau (30) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

PITTSBURGH — An early mistake by Kris Letang put the Pittsburgh Penguins in the kind of hole they've struggled to dig out from at times during a wildly uneven season.

Minutes later, the veteran defenseman atoned with a goal of his own. His team followed suit by playing the kind of hockey that will need to become commonplace if they want to make a late run at the playoffs.

Letang scored twice, including an empty-netter in the final moments, as the Penguins surged past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Thursday night for just their second win in their last seven games.

"The fact that we go down by a goal, we don’t get discouraged or anything like that, we keep playing, that’s (good),” Letang said.

Letang's fifth of the year just minutes after a giveaway led directly to Mike Matheson's first-period goal steadied Pittsburgh. Bryan Rust and Drew O'Conner scored 21 seconds apart in the second to provide some breathing room to break open a close game as the Penguins thrived on a night stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held in relatively in check.

“I think the good thing for our group is, the last couple of games we’re getting contributions up and down our lineup and I think that’s ... encouraging," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.

The Penguins, who began the day eight points out of a wild-card spot in the jumbled Eastern Conference got 30 saves from Tristan Jarry — many of them early — and turned aside two late power plays by the Canadiens.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Rickard Rakell (67) can't redirect a shot in...

Pittsburgh Penguins' Rickard Rakell (67) can't redirect a shot in front of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

Cayden Primeau made 23 saves for Montreal, which lost for the sixth time in seven games.

“I think it’s a bit of a case where we have a lot of good stretches of hockey throughout each game, then just kind of one little stretch that bites us,” Matheson said. “That’s the most difficult thing is to be consistent.”

The Canadiens have fallen off the pace in the race for a wild-card spot. Pittsburgh is flirting with doing the same as it hopes to provide first-year general manager/director of hockey operations Kyle Dubas a reason to bolster the roster before the March 8 trade deadline.

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

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) keeps his eye on...

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) keeps his eye on a shot by Montreal Canadiens' Jordan Harris (54) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Credit: AP/Gene J. Puskar

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.

That momentum carried forward against Montreal. Jarry was sharp and a pair of long shots that turned into goals — the first by Letang, the second on Rust's deflection of Erik Karlsson's blast from the point — helped.

“Sometimes you've got to simplify things and just putting the puck around the net might create some bounces and some lucky goals,” Letang said.

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.

“Had lunch and was getting ready for a nap, and then I got a call around 2:15,” White said. "And from there on, just kind of roll in and went to the (Canadiens') hotel and then took the team bus. So, it’s crazy.”

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.

UP NEXT

Canadiens: Travel to New Jersey on Saturday.

Penguins: Host intrastate rival Philadelphia on Sunday.

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