If all goes well for the Penguins, they could be getting Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Paul Martin and Evgeni Malkin -- or some combination thereof -- back before too terribly much longer, and that thought has to be pretty exciting for them.
After all, it would give them probably the finest collection of Black Aces -- that is, playoff taxi squad -- in Stanley Cup history.
OK, maybe not, because coach Dan Bylsma will carve out spots in his lineup for those guys as they become available. Doesn't mean he might not have a second thought or two about tinkering too much with his personnel, though.
After all, the Penguins' 6-4 victory Wednesday night against Montreal at Consol Energy Center was their fifth in a row and 20th in the past 22 games.
It also effectively ended any chance the Canadiens had of overtaking them for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs; the Penguins' magic number for finishing ahead of Montreal, which they have swept in a season series for the first time, has shrunk to one.
Their magic number for finishing ahead of Boston, the only other Eastern club with a mathematical shot at the top seed, is three. The Bruins have to beat the Penguins in regulation Friday night at TD Garden to sustain any hint of suspense in that race. Considering all that, there isn't any great urgency for Bylsma and his staff to blow it all up and start over.
"People have stepped in and played well, and guys have contributed in all different areas," he said. "I don't think that's going to change a lot when you add another player back in, or a second or a third guy back in."
The Montreal game was the second Malkin has missed because of a shoulder problem. Crosby (jaw) sat out his seventh in a row, Neal (concussion) his fourth and Martin (hand surgery) his eighth.
Part of the reason the Penguins have been able to survive the absences of such high-end talents is that they've gotten meaningful contributions from guys acquired as the NHL trade deadline approached.
Winger Brenden Morrow had two goals -- giving him five in the past four games -- and an assist against the Canadiens. Jarome Iginla had a goal and an assist and, in the process, became the 58th player in NHL history to reach the 1,100-point level.
Even defenseman Douglas Murray, who had not scored a goal in his previous 146 games, put a puck behind Canadiens goalie Carey Price in the third period.
Forward Jussi Jokinen didn't show up on the scoresheet for one of the few times since being acquired from Carolina, but he had a good excuse. He left the game late in the second because of illness, according to Bylsma, and did not return.
The Penguins also played the final half of the final period without center Joe Vitale, who adjourned to the locker room after blocking a shot. Bylsma said Vitale "basically, just has a bruise."
Brandon Sutter gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 7:24 of the first period, and Morrow converted a Pascal Dupuis feed at 9:30 to put them up by two. Iginla scored on a power play with 21 seconds to go before the intermission to put Montreal down by three, and Morrow struck against at 4:07 of the second.
After Brian Gionta of the Canadiens beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from close range at 7:42, Sutter restored the Penguins' three-goal advantage at 10:30. But Alex Galchenyuk scored for the Canadiens at 17:35, and Gabriel Dumont pulled Montreal within two at 4:09 of the third.
Enter Murray, who has done a lot of things -- none of which involve scoring goals -- for the Penguins since being acquired from San Jose.
But just 75 seconds after Dumont scored -- giving Montreal a flicker of hope that maybe, somehow it could salvage a point or two -- Murray beat Price, who had replaced Peter Budaj after the first period, from the right point.
"The goal obviously kind of took the air out of them," Murray said. "But I thought we were pretty much in control, anyway."
The Penguins were. And had been, for the most part. And continued to be. Giving up four goals hadn't been part of their plan, but might have been a by-product of the Penguins' dominance.
"It's one of those things where you get ahead and maybe you let some things slip," winger Craig Adams said.
Such letdowns could cost a guy his spot in the lineup. Especially when there's a Crosby or Malkin or Neal or Martin ready to step in.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 18, 2013 4:15 AM