NHL: PENGUINS 6, CANADIENS 4 -- Pens crush Habs, close in on top seed
PITTSBURGH — Brenden Morrow hasn’t even been in Pittsburgh for a month. At the rate he is going, the veteran forward should soon feel free to run for mayor.
Morrow scored two goals for the second straight game and dropped Montreal’s P.K. Subban in a third-period fight as the Penguins moved closer to clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 6-4 victory over the Canadiens on Wednesday night.
Acquired from Dallas on March 24, Morrow’s tenure with the Penguins got off to a slow start. He didn’t score until his seventh game with his new team but has now netted five goals in eight days.
“He was absolutely flying,” Pittsburgh forward Jarome Iginla said. “It was great.”
And certainly more than enough to overcome the loss of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The former NHL MVPs didn’t play as Crosby is still dealing with a broken jaw, and Malkin is nursing a lingering shoulder injury.
Their absences have allowed the aggressive moves made by Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero the last 12 months to shine through.
Iginla, picked up just before the trade deadline last month, scored his second goal for the Penguins. Doug Murray, brought in from San Jose on March 25, scored for the first time in more than two years. And center Brandon Sutter — who came to Pittsburgh in a stunning swap last June that sent popular center Jordan Staal to Carolina — added two goals as Pittsburgh won its fifth straight without Crosby.
“I think good habits are contagious, and everyone’s kind of got a good tradition here of winning habits,” Morrow said.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 31 shots to earn his 22nd win of the season.
Barring a collapse, Pittsburgh will have home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Penguins lead the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins by nine points with less than two weeks to go in the regular season. Pittsburgh and Montreal have five games left while the Bruins have six.
The Penguins insist they are focused on each game and not the big picture. It certainly looked that way as they raced to a 4-0 lead against the reeling Canadiens.
Brian Gionta, Alex Galchenyuk, Gabriel Dumont and Andrei Markov scored for Montreal, but the Canadiens lost their third straight. Peter Budaj started in goal and was pulled after stopping just six of the nine shots he faced in the first period.
Carey Price relieved and allowed three goals on 20 shots, absorbing the loss. Montreal has been one of the NHL’s biggest surprises this season but has dropped four of five heading toward the playoffs.
“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.”
The Canadiens intended to give Price, their No. 1 goalie, the night off to recover after he allowed 12 total goals in blowout losses to Toronto and Philadelphia.
Budaj, however, didn’t cooperate.
“We tried to change the momentum, and it didn’t work,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said.
Shaky from the outset, Budaj never appeared comfortable. Even the most innocuous of shots were a struggle. At one point, a soft wrist shot from outside the blue line floated all the way to the crease, where it smacked Budaj’s cage.
Sutter buried his 10th goal with a sizzling wrist shot from the top of the left circle to give Pittsburgh the lead 7:24 into the game. Budaj looked surprised as the puck sailed over his outstretched glove, and the goal seemed to deflate his teammates.
Morrow made it 2-0 just more than two minutes later. He gathered a loose puck near the left faceoff dot and beat Budaj over his right shoulder.
With the lead and momentum in hand, the Penguins started throwing their weight around. Pittsburgh’s fourth line of Craig Adams, Joe Vitale and Tanner Glass delivered a series of board-rattling hits during a dominant 75-second shift that put the already reeling Canadiens further on their heels.
Iginla knocked them down late in the first, scoring his 1,100th career point and second goal with Pittsburgh by taking a feed from Chris Kunitz on the doorstep and flipping a shot over the diving Budaj to make it 3-0 with 21 seconds remaining.
Price came in for the overmatched Budaj, but fared no better. Beau Bennett intercepted a neutral zone pass, moved to his right to create space for an odd-man rush with Morrow, then waited patiently before slipping a pass that Morrow tapped in to continue his late-season surge.
The Canadiens finally steadied themselves behind Gionta and Galchenyuk, but by then the Penguins were firmly in control.
Even Murray got in on the act. He wobbled a shot from the point in the third period that found its way through a sea of players and past Price. It was Murray’s first goal since Dec. 9, 2010. The 146-game drought was the longest active goal-less streak in the NHL.
NOTES: The Penguins wore stickers on their helmets depicting the American flag behind a silhouette of the Boston skyline with the city’s area code (617) in front of it to honor the victims of the marathon bombings on Monday. There was also a moment of silence before the opening faceoff. ... Pittsburgh honored former All-Star forward Mark Recchi to the franchise’s All-Time team in a pre-game ceremony. Recchi played 389 games with the Penguins, scoring 154 goals and helping the team to its first Stanley Cup title in 1991.