|Penguins hoping to rebound vs. Habs|
Of the Pittsburgh Penguins' final nine regular-season games, four are against teams that have little to no chance of making the playoffs.
Wednesday will be one of them, against the Montreal Canadiens at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins (41-27-5) could use points against those clubs to help put them in the best possible position going into the playoffs as they chase their third straight Stanley Cup.
That didn't happen Tuesday as they fell 4-1 on the road to the New York Islanders, whose season has fallen into disarray. That in spite of the return of No. 1 goaltender Matt Murray after he was out three weeks because of a concussion.
Conor Sheary, who scored the lone goal against the Islanders, called for a strong bounce-back against the Canadiens on the second night of back-to-back games.
"They're a team that's out of the playoffs right now, but they're still going to be hungry and they're going to want to win," Sheary said.
Pittsburgh's loss to New York on a night when Washington and Columbus won and Philadelphia lost in a shootout left the second-place Penguins four points behind first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division. Columbus caught the Penguins in points and Philadelphia is one point back, although the Penguins have a game in hand and own the tiebreaker against the Blue Jackets and the Flyers.
While finishing atop the Metropolitan would help in terms of guaranteeing home-ice advantage for at least the early rounds of the playoffs -- and the Penguins are a robust 26-8-1 at home -- that's not the most crucial concern, according to team captain Sidney Crosby.
"It's important to be playing the right way," Crosby said. "I think if that's something that puts (us) in the position to win the division, then it's nice to have that. That being said, I think we just want to make sure we're playing the right way and hope that that earns us the top spot."
The Penguins scored a comeback 5-3 win against Montreal on Thursday and have another game against the Canadiens on March 31.
That loss for the Canadiens started a three-game skid. They are 2-6-2 in March and are coming off a 2-0 shutout loss Monday against Florida.
As bleak as that seems, Montreal could get the kind of boost Wednesday that the Penguins didn't get Tuesday. Canadiens No. 1 goaltender Carey Price, who dressed as the backup against the Panthers, is expected to make his first start after missing a month because of a concussion.
"You don't know how long those types of things are going to take," Price said of concussions, according to Canadiens.com. "As an athlete, you want to get back in there as soon as possible. I wouldn't be playing (Wednesday) if I was nervous about the condition of my head. I'm very confident. ... The old saying back home is, 'You can't worry about the fall if you're going to ride the horse.'"
Price doesn't want to just play out the rest of the season. He wants to perform well.
"I just want to give a good effort and stay positive throughout the rest of the season," Price told the club's website. "We have a lot of young guys in the lineup. We don't have high expectations, but we want to make sure that we do give a really good effort. Right now, that's what really matters."
Canadiens coach Claude Julien is hoping Price will spark his team.
"We want to see Carey in our net," he said -- and agreed with the goalie that the young players are the key to the final games of the season.
"The glass is half full because you're giving an opportunity to youngsters that wouldn't have had a shot, and the glass is also half full because they're being put in situations that they shouldn't be in," Julien said. "At the same time, you're hoping that these experiences will be beneficial for the future."