NHL Hockey

Pens visit Habs in key battle for wild-card positioning

Every unearned point could be a dagger for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are scrambling to get into the playoffs with 18 games remaining, including one Saturday against the Canadiens in Montreal.

Pittsburgh fell to 1-1-2 in their past four games when they took a 4-3 overtime time in Buffalo on Friday despite leading the Sabres with less than three minutes left in regulation. It was the second time in a week the Penguins lost in overtime after leading following two periods.

"It's frustrating for sure because it was there to be had," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of the latest squandered point. "I thought for most of the night we were the better team."

Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford this week said he was a little nervous about the Penguins missing the playoffs for the first time after 12 straight appearances. They are currently tied on points with the Blue Jackets for the last Eastern Conference postseason position, but Columbus has a game in hand.

"We play (Saturday) against a good team, and we need to fight," Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin said. "(There are) no easy games anymore. We understand it's not easy, but it's a good challenge before the playoffs."

The Penguins continue to be short-handed in personnel. Brian Dumoulin (concussion) has resumed skating, but his partner on the top defensive pairing, Kris Letang (upper-body injury) has not gotten back on the ice. Neither traveled with the team this weekend.

The Canadiens also will be playing on back-to-back nights following a road game. They downed the New York Rangers 4-2 Friday behind Joel Armia's first NHL hat trick.

Montreal has won two in a row and four of six. The Canadiens are two points ahead of Pittsburgh and hold the top wild-card spot in the East.

Montreal No. 1 goaltender Carey Price could start on successive nights and face the Penguins. He made 28 saves against the Rangers, giving him 313 career wins, one behind Jacques Plante for the most in Canadiens history.

With the Canadiens in the thick of the tight race in the East -- and with Pittsburgh looking to pull even in points Saturday -- Price's play could help determine whether Montreal gets in, so it's possible he'll be right back to work.

Price was given the day off from practice Thursday before collecting his 27th win of the season Friday. He has started 12 of Montreal's past 13 games -- and he relieved backup Antti Niemi in the one he didn't start during that stretch.

"He's resting because of the workload we've given him," Montreal coach Claude Julien said Thursday of holding Price out of practice. "As far as back-to-back, as usual, I never make those decisions until after the game."

Price started two nights in a row earlier this week, a 2-1 loss Monday at New Jersey and an 8-1 win Tuesday in Detroit.

Julien hinted that the Canadiens will consider riding Price heavily down the stretch.

"He seems to be in the groove, and so we decided that rest was better for him than practice (Thursday). We have a heavy schedule from here to the end of the year, so it's not just about (Friday and Saturday); it's more about what he's done and what we need him to do moving forward."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 2, 2019

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