While the Pittsburgh Penguins close in on the top seed in the Eastern Conference despite dealing with multiple injuries, the second-place Montreal Canadiens have taken a step back since clinching a playoff berth.
Host Pittsburgh seeks a fifth consecutive victory overall and sixth in seven meetings with Montreal on Wednesday night.
Since dropping their first two games after NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby suffered a broken jaw March 30, the Penguins (32-10-0) have won four straight and lead the Canadiens by seven points atop the East.
There’s no timetable for Crosby’s return, though he did skate in the last two practices. Pittsburgh also was without Evgeni Malkin in a 3-1 win at Florida on Saturday as he nurses an upper-body injury.
“I feel good,” Malkin said. “We have a couple days off and I have little bit of injury, but we still have time until the next game.”
Forward Brenden Morrow scored twice and added an assist Saturday, helping to fill the offensive void.
“It hasn’t been our plan, but we’re finding ways,” Morrow said. “Each game somebody is stepping up and it’s feeling really good.”
Pittsburgh, winner of 13 of 14 at home, has won 19 of 21 overall in a stretch that began with a wild 7-6 overtime victory over Montreal on March 2.
Crosby scored in the Penguins’ 1-0 victory in the most recent matchup March 26, giving them a 5-0-1 mark in the past six meetings.
Montreal’s Carey Price made 24 saves in that contest, but he’s posted a 6.59 goals-against average in losing his last three starts.
Price allowed three goals on four shots before being pulled in a 5-1 defeat to Toronto on Saturday. He was lifted again after giving up six goals in a 7-3 loss to Philadelphia on Monday.
The Canadiens (26-11-5), who lead Boston by one point atop the Northeast Division, have seemed complacent since clinching a playoff spot with a 5-1 win over Buffalo on Thursday.
“Since we clinched, our intensity and concentration level, our attention to detail and our work ethic, have fallen a lot,” coach Michel Therrien said. “It’s a game of pride. You have to come to the rink ready to play. That’s what we were not doing the last two games. It’s disappointing.”
Therrien hasn’t said if he’ll go with Price, 1-2-2 with a 3.34 GAA in his last five versus Pittsburgh, or backup Peter Budaj 7-0-0 with a 1.59 GAA in his past nine appearances - six starts.
“We’re not panicking, but we have to be able to learn from this,” defenseman Francis Bouillon told the team’s official website. “It’s been easy to play against us lately and we want to be able to head into the playoffs with more wins under our belt. We have to focus on these next games that are coming up.”
Pittsburgh is likely to start Marc-Andre Fleury 8-1-0 with a 1.59 GAA in his last nine starts. He made 25 saves before leaving the most recent meeting with Montreal after two periods due to a neck injury.