The bad news: the Bruins were highly disappointed in the uneven effort Thursday night against the Canadiens that dropped them out of first place in the Atlantic Division.
The good news: the Bruins have another Eastern Conference power in Pittsburgh coming into their backyard that will give them a chance to jump right back onto the horse. The Penguins have won five games in a row and completely shellacked the San Jose Sharks earlier this week, so the Bruins will once again be facing a good hockey club in the middle of a big time hot streak.
It will be up to the Black and Gold to extinguish the hot team, and their job is being a bit easier with the absence of the injured Evgeni Malkin. They should be careful, though, as Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby are both riding long point streaks where they’re putting up big offensive numbers.
“If you think of it game-by-game, [Pittsburgh] is probably the same kind of rivalry [as Montreal],” said Matt Bartkowski. “Not historically, but right now it is. There’s a lot of history between us because we’ve had the same team for the last few years, and so have they.
“It makes up for a game, and it’s a lot of fun.”
It certainly might be a little extra for a Pittsburgh native like Bartkowski as well no matter what the scenario leading up to the game, but everybody on the Bruins should be breathing fire on the TD Garden ice Saturday night.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Loui Eriksson was Boston’s leading point guy with 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists) during the month of November, but he completely disappeared against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. The Swedish winger looked a little tentative and light on the puck against the Habs, who also seemed to sense blood in the water as the game was going along. Eriksson finished with zero shots on net and was a complete non-factor in the game, and could use a big bounce back performance against the Penguins on Saturday night. He was invisible during his first experience with the Bruins/Habs rivalry.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “We show some emotion sometimes in certain games and in other games, not so much. Sometimes it’s in part of the game, and [then] one of the periods – which was our last game – we totally lost that. We were inconsistent in that. I think right now that’s where our challenge is: we’re trying to create some emotion for 60 minutes and consistency in our game, and hopefully that last game kind of gave us a wakeup call in regards to that.” –Claude Julien, looking for a nice rebound against Pittsburgh after the loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
KEY MATCHUP: With no Evgeni Malkin for the Penguins, it’s pretty clear that it comes down to bottling up Sidney Crosby for 60 minutes. That could allow some other Penguins players to beat them as they’ve done from time to time in the past, but Sid the Kid should be getting a steady diet of Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron throughout the night. Easier said than done when it’s the NHL’s leading scorer, but Crosby’s recent struggles against the Black and Gold are well documented. Crosby has ten points (2 goals, 8 assists) and four multi-point games in his last five games, and helped torch the San Jose Sharks in Pittsburgh’s last game.
STAT TO WATCH: 12 – the number of power play goals for Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby, which is one less than the Bruins have scored (12) as an entire hockey team.
INJURIES: Evgeni Malkin did not travel with Pittsburgh and won't play Saturday. Forward Pascal Dupuis (undisclosed) left the game vs. San Jose and did not return. He made the trip to Boston, and the team said he might play. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defensemen Rob Scuderi (ankle) and Paul Martin (leg) along with forwards Chuck Kobasew (lower body), Beau Bennett (wrist), Tanner Glass (hand) and Andrew Ebbett (ankle) are on injured reserve and out for Saturday night’s game.
Boston will be without Johnny Boychuk (back sprain) and defenseman Adam McQuaid (groin), who is day-to-day after aggravating an injury that caused him to miss eight games in November.
GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask became the highest paid goaltender in the NHL after signing an eight year deal this summer that will pay him $7 million per season, and has played like it for most of the season. Rask is coming off a disappointing second period vs. Montreal where he gave up a soft goal to Tomas Plekanec, and will be highly motivated against the Penguins.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 44 shots in a lopsided win over the San Jose Sharks in a season that continues to be a nice rebound for the Pittsburgh netminder, who has a 2.01 goals against average and .922 save percentage for the Penguins. It will come down to the postseason performance for Fleury, of course, but he’s inspiring a lot of confidence between the pipes.