PITTSBURGH -- The battle for first place in the Eastern Conference continues on Sunday afternoon with another battle between the powerful Bruins and the explosive Penguins.
Adding to the intrigue and emotion is a stinging loss that Pittsburgh handed Boston just five days ago on their home ice at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins rifled off three unanswered goals in the third period to give the Black and Gold its third third-period collapse this season, and set up plenty of motivation for things to be different this time around.
Coming off an emotional tilt where the Bruins won a measure of revenge against one of the other teams that bit them in the third period this season, the Washington Capitals, Boston now goes looking for the weekend sweep against the Penguins.
“I think our team is at their best when we’re playing with that emotion and hopefully that carries on into [Sunday],” said Milan Lucic. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t have any emotion going into this game after what happened in our last game.”
The Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin for Sunday’s tilt, but they proved earlier this week that Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz coupled with Brandon Sutter’s line are more than a handful for the best of defensive teams.
Pittsburgh does catch the Bruins on the second day of back-to-back games once again for today's nationally-televised game on the NBC Network, but it should be a very different outcome with both games as early afternoon matinees. The Black and Gold shouldn’t be on their last legs this time around, and that could make things different for a club that’s 5-0-0 in afternoon games this season.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Jay Pandolfo is still getting up to speed a couple of games into his stint subbing in for the injured Chris Kelly, but he has improved with each passing game. The ice-time he's received has clearly helped him get into the flow of things, and his strengths as a penalty killer have been helpful. But it would be good for the 38-year-old to get on the board as well. Pandolfo is scoreless in seven games played for the Bruins this season, and still looking for his first goal of the season.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “It’s a natural thing. Obviously when you lose a game the way we did here and the way we did against Washington, there is some extra motivation there. But it needs to be controlled. Yesterday we did a good job of that and we need to bring it again today.” – Claude Julien.
KEY MATCHUP: With Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup it will be Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk -- and probably Patrice Bergeron’s line on most shifts -- against Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis for the balance of the game. It should be worth the price of admission to watch Chara battle with Crosby now that the face of the NHL is back to full strength as the league’s leading scorer. Normally defense and good goaltending would beat offense in a game like this, but the Penguins are averaging a pretty intimidating 3.65 goals per game this season. The problem is that the Penguins are good enough to still hurt the Bruins with other lines as Brandon Sutter showed with a pair of third-period goals in Tuesday night’s win over Boston.
STAT TO WATCH: 25 – That's the number of consecutive penalty kills for the Bruins' top-rated PK unit while not allowing a power-play goal since a March 3 game against the Montreal Canadiens. It’s the third streak of 20-plus penalty kills for Boston this season.
INJURIES: The Bruins suffered their first significant injury in weeks when Chris Kelly had to leave Monday night’s game in Ottawa with a left leg injury after a knee-on-knee hit with Chris Neil. Kelly is out indefinitely with a broken left tibia. Evgeni Malkin is expected to miss 1-2 weeks with an upper body injury suffered right after returning from a concussion.
GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Anton Khudobin got the start in the last game against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night when they got three past him to take the come-from-behind win. Tuukka Rask should get the nod this time around after Khudobin backstopped the B’s to a Saturday afternoon win over the Capitals. Rask is among the league’s top-five goaltenders in wins (14), GAA (1.91) and save percentage (.930) this season. Penguins No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will be getting the start for Pittsburgh looking to build on a 15-5 record with pedestrian 2.45 goals against average and .909 save percentage stats, and help Pittsburgh to get their 10th win in a row.