Penguins-Canadiens Preview

The Associated Press

If the Montreal Canadiens have any intentions of making a playoff run, now would be a good time to start climbing considering they're tied for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference.

They can probably think of two in particular that slipped away thanks to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With a pair of dramatic overtime comeback wins in the books against Montreal, the Penguins will try to finish off a four-game season sweep Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.

The Canadiens were tied for seventh place in the East on Dec. 13 with 33 points, but over the past eight weeks they've only managed to add 16 to that total in 22 games.

A three-game losing streak left them alone in the conference cellar heading into Sunday, but Carey Price helped his team snap its skid. The All-Star stopped 23 shots to lead Montreal to a 3-0 victory over Winnipeg.

That pulled the Canadiens (20-24-9) even with Carolina in 14th place, but there are still five teams to pass in the last 29 games to have any shot at a fifth consecutive postseason appearance.

"There are a lot of games to go and there's a lot of character in this room,'' said center Tomas Plekanec, who had a goal and an assist. "I'm sure we'll do our best and we'll win some games together and get back into the picture and get somewhere where we know we can still make it."

Three of those teams are no more than two points away, though, and Montreal could be tied for 11th had it been able to hold a pair of two-goal leads against Pittsburgh.

The Habs let a 3-1 advantage slip away Nov. 26 at the Bell Centre, with Jordan Staal tying the score with 4:30 to go and Kris Letang giving the Penguins (30-19-4) a 4-3 win in overtime. Montreal carried a 4-2 cushion into the third Jan. 20 at Pittsburgh, but Dustin Jeffrey and Evgeni Malkin pulled the Penguins even before Malkin scored the lone goal in the shootout.

That 5-4 victory came in the midst of an eight-game winning streak in which Pittsburgh came from behind four times, but it's dropped two of three since on a four-game road trip. An afternoon after making 28 saves in a 2-1 win at Boston, Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled early in the second period Sunday in a 5-2 loss at New Jersey.

"I think we'd just as soon pretend this one didn't happen," defenseman Matt Niskanen told the Penguins' official website. "Learn from it, but we weren't very good today. Just kind of squash it and start looking forward to Tuesday."

Fleury is 6-3-1 during the regular season in Canada's second-largest city, but the native of Sorel, Quebec - just an hour north of Montreal - has a 3.36 goals-against average at the Bell Centre.

The Canadiens have just seven goals in their last four games after entering the All-Star break with a 7-2 win over Detroit, and Erik Cole's lack of production is a big reason why. Cole has a team-high 39 points and is tied with Max Pacioretty for the lead with 19 goals, but he's been held without a point since the break.

Cole, however, has three goals and three assists in his last four games versus Pittsburgh.

The Penguins are 4 for 39 on the power play in their last 10 regular-season games against Montreal - all four coming in a 5-2 road win Jan. 12, 2011. The Canadiens kill a league-best 89.7 percent of opponents' power plays.

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