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Morrow, Sutter lead Penguins past Canadiens

by Chris Adamski /

PITTSBURGH -- Almost to a man, the Pittsburgh Penguins insist they aren't preoccupied with earning the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed.

Their determined, crisp play, though, belies the notion Pittsburgh isn't playing with a purpose as its regular season enters its final 10 days.

Brenden Morrow and Brandon Sutter each scored twice, Jarome Iginla added a power-play goal for his 1,100th career point and the Penguins won their fifth consecutive game, 6-4, against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.

Pittsburgh improved to 33-10 by winning at home for the 14th time in its past 15, extending its lead on Montreal and the Boston Bruins to nine points. The Penguins and Canadiens each have five games remaining and Boston has a game in hand.

"No one's talked about getting that No. 1," said Iginla, whose power-play goal in the final minute of the first period made him the 58th NHL player to reach the 1,100-point mark. "It's just about, "Keep getting better as a group and keep the habits the right way.' There's not many games left in the season, so the goal is to try to keep sharp."

Defenseman Douglas Murray added his first goal since Dec. 9, 2010 for the Penguins, who have won 20 of their past 22 -- a stretch that began with a 7-6 overtime win at Montreal on March 2. Pittsburgh is 6-0-1 in its past seven against the Canadiens, winning all three meetings this season -- the first time in franchise history the Penguins swept the Habs.

Brian Gionta, Alex Galchenyuk, Gabriel Dumont and Andrei Markov scored and Lars Eller and David Desharnais each had two assists for Montreal, which has lost three in a row. The Canadiens have been outscored, 18-8, in their past three, their starting goalie pulled in each game.

"We've got to tighten up the defensive game -- it's as simple as that," coach Michel Therrien said "There's too much distance between their forwards and our defense. ... You can't expect to win giving up four goals, five goals. It's a matter of going back to basics.

"I always believe that you see the true colors of people when they're facing adversity."

While it was Carey Price getting yanked by Therrien in losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday, on Wednesday it was Peter Budaj who lasted one period.

Budaj had been 7-0-0 with a 1.59 goals-against average in his past nine appearances (six starts), but he allowed three goals on nine shots. Price wasn't too much better, allowing three goals on 20 shots.

"We've got to get back to what was making us successful the start of the season," Price said. "The last three games we haven't gotten off to the best starts, they beat us right off the bat and got the ball rolling."

Once again, Pittsburgh played without four key players -- Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), Evgeni Malkin (shoulder), James Neal (concussion) and Paul Martin (hand).

Malkin, the NHL’s reigning MVP, took part in the morning skate and is nearing a return, but it was no matter for the Penguins. They improved to 12-2 without Malkin and won for the second game in a row without him or fellow former NHL scoring champion Crosby.

"Just showing up at the rink, I think good habits are contagious and everyone's kind of got a good tradition here of winning habits," said Morrow, who played his 10th game for Pittsburgh since being acquired via trade. "Whoever is in and out of the lineup ... it's just a confident group right now."

Marc-Andre Fleury, who was knocked out of the teams' previous meeting March 26 because of a neck injury, improved to 9-1 in his past 10 starts and moved into a tie for the NHL lead in wins with his 22nd.

Sutter opened the scoring 7:24 into the game and made it 5-1 with a power-play tally off an assist from Morrow at 10:30 of the second.

Morrow, who has four goals in his past two games, finished off a Gordie Howe hat trick when he fought P.K. Subban with 12:55 left in the third. Iginla's goal was his second in eight games.

Defensemen Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen each had two assists for the Penguins, who can wrap up the East’s regular-season title with a victory at Boston in their next game Friday.

Galchenyuk scored for the fifth time in his past seven games for Montreal, and Pittsburgh's Pascal Dupuis extended his points streak to a season-high six games with an assist on Morrow's first goal of the night.

Morrow, Sutter and Iginla each have 11 goals this season. Murray's goal was his first in 147 games.

The Penguins have killed 20 consecutive penalties at home and are 6-for-16 on the power play in their past three games.

"Guys are doing a lot of different things that lead to success for the team," said Iginla, who came to Pittsburgh from Calgary in a March 28 trade. "When I got here, you noticed right away that everybody enjoys a different roles and takes pride in them. That's easier said than done too.

"It's led to some continued success with some great guys out."

Pittsburgh's Jussi Jokinen did not play during the final 10 minutes of the second period or the third period because of illness. Joe Vitale did not play the final 10:01 of regulation after absorbing a blocked shot, but Bylsma shrugged off the severity of a possible injury, calling it a "bruise."

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