Still eyeing their first division title in five years, the Montreal Canadiens try to avoid matching their longest losing streak of the season on Wednesday evening when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Canadiens have lost back-to-back games for the first time since March 23-26 and have looked ugly in doing so. In their first game since officially clinching a playoff spot, the Habs were routed 5-1 in Toronto on Saturday before dropping a 7-3 decision to the previously-struggling Philadelphia Flyers on Monday.
Montreal failed to extend its one-point lead over the Boston Bruins for first place in the Northeast Division. The Bruins now have a game in hand after their scheduled contest versus Ottawa on Monday was postponed following the tragic events that took place earlier in the day at the Boston Marathon. The Bruins are slated to host the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday.
Carey Price suffered his second forgettable outing in a row. After giving up three goals on just four shots faced before getting lifted early versus the Maple Leafs, the netminder yielded six goals on 29 shots through two periods versus the Flyers. Peter Budaj made three saves and gave up a goal while playing the third period and is expected to start tonight.
Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher each posted a goal for the Canadiens, who have lost three of four and will try to avoid matching a season-worst three-game skid from Feb. 6-9.
"This is a game of pride and you have to come to the game ready to play," said Montreal head coach Michel Therrien. "The last two games there was no intensity on our part and no work ethic and it's disappointing. Obviously everyone wasn't ready to play and we don't have much time before the playoffs."
Montreal could be without forward Ryan White after he was ejected in the first period against the Flyers for delivering a hit to the head on Philadelphia's Kent Huskins, who left the game with a concussion. White received a match penalty in his return to the lineup as Brandon Prust was scratched to rest an upper body ailment.
Prust is expected to play tonight, while White will have an in-person hearing with the league on Wednesday.
While also looking to fend off the Bruins for the Northeast crown, the Habs likely need a regulation win tonight if they hope to catch the top-seeded Penguins, who lead the Eastern Conference with 64 points -- seven more than the Canadiens -- with six games to play.
Pittsburgh has won four straight and 19 of its last 21 games, picking up a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday despite playing without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Paul Martin.
Brenden Morrow scored twice and assisted on Kris Letang's goal, while Beau Bennett ended with two helpers. Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves to get the win.
"When you're in here, you see how confident the group is," Morrow said. "(Even with) a couple world-class players not in the lineup, the group in here still has a belief that what they're going to do, how they're going to work, how they prepare, is going to have success."
Malkin was a late scratch due to an upper body injury and is day-to-day. He practiced on Tuesday, but did not work with any lines.
Crosby, who still leads the NHL with 56 points, has not played since suffering a broken jaw versus the New York Islanders on March 30, while Neal suffered a concussion on April 5 versus the New York Rangers. Martin had surgery on March 31, three days after breaking a bone in his hand.
There is no timetable for any of three players' returns, but the trio did skate before practice on Tuesday.
The Penguins have won their first two meetings with the Canadiens this season, taking a wild 7-6 overtime decision at Montreal on March 2 before winning a calmer 1-0 contest at home on March 26.
Pittsburgh, which has never swept the season series, has won five of the last six meetings overall and three straight as the host.