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Canadiens try to cool off red-hot Penguins

by Arpon Basu

CANADIENS (26-11-5) at PENGUINS (32-10-0)


Last 10: Montreal 6-4-0; Pittsburgh 8-2-0

Season series: The Pittsburgh Penguins will be seeking a season sweep of the Montreal Canadiens in the third and final meeting between the top two clubs in the Eastern Conference.

Big story: While a victory wouldn't mathematically clinch it, the Penguins could put to rest any glimmer of doubt they may have in terms of entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a victory against the Canadiens.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: Montreal is coming off two humiliating losses and arrives in Pittsburgh in a state of flux.

The Canadiens, starting with general manager Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien right down to the players, have said all season long that the team's goal was to make the playoffs. Even when it became obvious that was going to happen as the Canadiens were challenging the Penguins and the Boston Bruins for the Eastern Conference lead, everyone stuck to the message that the playoffs were the goal.

Once that goal was achieved, the Canadiens appeared to fall apart, allowing 12 goals in consecutive losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and at home to the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night.

"We have to make a decision. In every opportunity, every experience there's a decision to be made. Do we move forward? Do we learn from this? Do we get better because of this? Or do we tuck out tails between our legs and cower?" defenseman Josh Gorges said after practice Tuesday. "I think this is a chance for us to grow as a team and understand exactly what it takes to win."

Therrien will turn to Peter Budaj in goal after Carey Price was pulled in his last two starts.

Penguins: Evgeni Malkin, who was hoping to return from an upper-body injury against Montreal, was not skating on a regular line at practice on Tuesday so his status remains uncertain for this game. The reigning Hart Trophy-winner reportedly is bothered by right shoulder soreness that has affected his ability to shoot the puck. Pittsburgh is still without captain Sidney Crosby, who's recovering from a broken jaw.

But in spite of all their injuries, the Penguins just keep rolling along -- they've won four in a row and are 19-2-0 in their last 21 games.

Who's hot: For the Canadiens, rookie Alex Galchenyuk has four goals in his past six games, and defenseman P.K. Subban continues his torrid season with a goal and seven assists in that same stretch. … For the Penguins, Pascal Dupuis has three goals and six assists during a five-game point streak, and stretch run acquisition Brenden Morrow has three goals and two assists in his past three games.

Injury report: The Canadiens are missing defensemen Alexei Emelin (knee) and Raphael Diaz (concussion) and forward Colby Armstrong (knee)…The Penguins are missing center Crosby (jaw), forward James Neal (concussion), defenseman Paul Martin (hand) and perhaps Malkin.

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