CANADIENS (37-24-7) at PENGUINS (39-21-8)
TV: RDS (HD), CBC, FS-P (HD)
Last 10: Montreal 6-4-0; Pittsburgh 4-2-4
Season series: The Pens and Habs will end their four-game season series. After taking the first two games against Pittsburgh, including one in a shootout, Montreal dropped their most recent get-together as the Penguins won 5-2 at the Bell Centre on Jan. 12.
Big story: Montreal looks to adjust to life without forward Max Pacioretty in the lineup after he suffered a severe concussion Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins and will need to do so quickly after dropping a game to St. Louis on Thursday and losing ground to Boston in a winnable Northeast Division. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has its eyes set on a division title of its own -- despite a raft of injuries, the Penguins are just four points behind Philadelphia after beating Boston and Buffalo in their last two games.
Canadiens: After closing out last month with a win over Carolina, the Canadiens are 4-1-0 in March -- including three wins on the road. But after losing Pacioretty on Wednesday, the Canadiens were beaten soundly the next night in St. Louis. Jaroslav Halak, the Canadiens' playoff star last spring, stopped 27 of 28 shots in his first meeting against his former club.
"Give them credit, they stuck with it and we couldn't get it by [Halak]," center Scott Gomez said after the loss to the Blues. "We had a lot of chances and some great looks. The important thing now is to regroup. We've got to provide a little more spark than that. It was a tight game, but emotionally we have to get better and it stars here with the older guys."
Penguins: The Penguins have taken advantage a three-day break after Tuesday's win against Buffalo, , allowing newcomers James Neal, Alex Kovalev and Matt Niskanen, as well as players coming back from injury, to practice together and grow as a "new" team. With five of six points in their last three games, the Penguins are fourth in the East and, at a minimum, earn home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
"You feel it just in general this time of year," coach Dan Bylsma said, referencing momentum building in the final stretch. "Games start to take on a different tenor, the intensity of the games, meaning of the games, the closeness of the games starts to build up and we're in that phase right now."
Who's hot: The Penguins have relied on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to hold the fort and he's done just that, going 3-0-1 in a recent stretch and allowing six goals in his past three outings. … Meanwhile, fellow netminder Carey Price has played superb for the Habs, having allowed two or fewer goals in six of his past seven games.
Injury report: Brooks Orpik (finger) and Arron Asham (concussion) continue to progress for the Penguins, who are without stars Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (season-ending knee surgery. … Pacioretty remains out indefinitely, though he was released from a hospital after suffering a concussion, as well as a non-displaced fracture of the fourth cervical vertebra. Defenseman Brent Sopel sat out Thursday with an upper-body injury.
Stat pack: After going pointless through five games since joining the Penguins in a trade from Dallas, Neal broke out with a goal and an assist against the Buffalo Sabres.
"Those are the kind of goals that can get you out of a slump," he said. "It was a little bit lucky, but it was nice to see it finally go into the net."
Puck drop: When the Penguins and Canadiens step onto the ice at the new Consol Energy Center, they'll be greeted by the 200th consecutive sellout crowd in Pittsburgh.
"Our fans are incredible," Penguins CEO and President David Morehouse said. "Their support, their passion and their love for the team and the game of hockey give us a true home-ice advantage, and help to make Pittsburgh such a strong hockey city. We salute them."