BY WILL GRAVES
Brenden Morrow scored two goals for the second straight game and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Montreal Canadiens 6-4 on Wednesday night to move closer to clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Brandon Sutter added two goals for Pittsburgh, and newly acquired Jarome Iginla and Doug Murray also scored for the Penguins, who had little trouble with the Canadiens despite playing without injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 31 shots and Pittsburgh dominated in racing to a quick 4-0 lead.
Brian Gionta, Alex Galchenyuk, Gabriel Dumont and Andrei Markov scored for the reeling Canadiens, who have lost three straight. Peter Budaj started in goal but 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.
The Penguins lead the Canadiens by nine points in the fight for the top seed. Both teams have five games remaining.
Crosby missed his seventh straight game because of a broken jaw, and Malkin sat while 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.
Morrow, Iginla and Murray arrived in trades just before last month’s deadline, and Sutter came to Pittsburgh in a stunning swap last June that sent popular center Jordan Staal to Carolina.
Sutter has settled in just fine anchoring the third line, and he is quickly developing chemistry with a suddenly resurgent Morrow. The veteran forward failed to score in his first six games with the Penguins but he has five goals in eight days.
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.
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 in. 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 over 2 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 then 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 it over a 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 strengthening their grasp on the top spot in the Eastern Conference and the home-ice advantage that comes with it.
Even Murray got in on the act. He wobbled a shot from the point in the third period that somehow 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.
Montreal’s P.K. Subban tried to fire up his team in the final 10 minutes by taking on Morrow, and Morrow obliged. The fight was short and ended with Subban on his back as the crowd chanted Morrow’s name while he skated to the penalty box.
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 pregame ceremony. Recchi played 389 games with the Penguins, scoring 154 goals and helping the team to its first Stanley Cup title in 1991.