Game preview: Bruins at Penguins

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Game preview: Bruins at Penguins

Just when the Bruins appear to be pulling out of their .500 funk, they sink right back into.

After a 4-3 loss to Washington on Saturday afternoon, breaking a two-game winning streak -- the first time they had won consecutive games in weeks -- the Bruins will be looking to split the weekend when they play their final regular-season game against the Penguins at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in Pittsburgh. And an easy task it won't be, as the Pens -- with Evgeni Malkin going super-nova and James Neal turning into an All-Star power forward --have won eight games in a row.

The Bruins team have turned their intensity and urgency up a notch over the last week, with the newly formed top line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin combining for 20 points in six games and 21-year-old rookie Jordan Caron putting together a four-game scoring streak.But a sluggish start along with a penalty-filled second period doomed the Bruins Saturday afternoon against Washington, and brought up some of the same bugaboos that have been bugging the Black and Gold for two months.
It was just flat. The first couple shifts werent the way we wanted to go, said defenseman Johnny Boychuk of the Bruins, whose slow starts prompted coach Claude Julien to call first-period timeouts in two of their last four games. Once we called that timeout, things started to roll the way we wanted it to. We just have to be ready right off the hop or else we either tie the game or win the game.

The hope is that the challenge of facing the steaming Penguins will be exactly whats needed to get the Bs engine moving. They won't be facing Sidney Crosby, however, as he's decided not to play Sunday afternoon. Its probably the smart move for Crosby after a particularly rough game against the Bruins and an inadvertent elbow from David Krejci during a battle for the puck put the Penguins franchise center back on the shelf with concussion symptoms.

That was disappointing to the Bruins players, who are always looking for the best possible challenge every time they step on the ice.

Its too bad that Sid wont be out there, said Milan Lucic. We always look forward to playing him, but its just good to hear that hes headed into the right direction with his health. Theyre still a tough team either way. It seems like Evgeni Malkin is on a mission this season, and both James Neal and Jordan Staal have become great players in their own right.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Greg Zanon continues to have a rough go of it for the Bruins. Hes a minus-4 in his last five games with the Bruins after a promising debut, and his roughing penalty in the second period of Saturday afternoons loss to the Capitals led to the game-winning goal. He had no blocked shots and no shots on net in 13:15 of ice time against Washington and ended up taking a pair of penalties in the middle 20 minutes. Zanons entry into the Black and Gold universe has been a rocky one indeed.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADING INTO THE GAME: We have to turn this around and realize the way we need to play to come out on top. Its about the start and keeping it going for the whole 60 minutes. The game against Pittsburgh is not going to get any easier. We are playing a good team, so you know we have to be ready. Patrice Bergeron.

KEY MATCHUP: Since the Bruins and Julien matched up the Patrice BergeronBrad MarchandJordan Caron line against Alex Ovechkin on Saturday, its likely that line will get the call against Hart Trophy favorite Evgeni Malkin on Sunday afternoon. The Bruins had enjoyed plenty of success holding Geno down over the years, but hes taken it to a different level this season while Crosby has been relegated to the sidelines with concussion issues. Itll be a tall order for Bergerons forward group, along with Zdeno Chara, when it comes to operation Shutdown Malkin, and dont forget Boston doesnt have the last change.

STAT TO WATCH: 4-7-2 the Bruins record this season in matinee games.

INJURIES: Rich Peverley (right knee sprain), Tuukka Rask (groin strainabdomen strain) and Nathan Horton (mild concussion) are long-term injuries for the Bruins, and both Andrew Ference (lower body injury) and Daniel Paille (upper body) are day-to-day while approaching a return. Benoit Pouliot had to pull himself out of Saturdays game following the pregame warm-up with a lower body injury, and the Bruins have recalled Max Sauve from AHL Providence as a potential replacement.

GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Tim Thomas could be appearing in his ninth straight game as the Bruins are looking to get things spinning in the right direction, since tossing Marty Turco in against the red-hot Penguins doesnt really sound all that appetizing. Thomas has a 1.51 goals against average and a .959 save percentage against Pittsburgh this season. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to get the start against the Bruins on Sunday afternoon and boasts a 2.02 goals against average and .929 save percentage in two games against Pittsburgh this season.

Celtics can't complete comeback, fall to Bucks, 103-100

Celtics can't complete comeback, fall to Bucks, 103-100

BOSTON – Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks wasn’t the first time during their impressive run at home that the Boston Celtics found themselves playing from behind most of the game.

But as hard as the Celtics fought, putting together one mini-run after another, it just wasn’t enough to knock off the red-hot Milwaukee Bucks who came away with a 103-100 win. 

The Celtics (48-27) had their four-game winning streak snapped while the Bucks (39-36) have now won 13 of their last 16 games as they continue to climb the Eastern Conference standings and pose a legit threat to any team they face in the first round of the playoffs. 

Boston, which trailed by as many as 14 points, rallied to tie the game at 93 in the fourth, but back-to-back baskets by Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon put the Bucks ahead 97-93. The Celtics soon found themselves back to within one possession after Jae Crowder split a pair of free throws making it a 99-96 game. 

But the Bucks did as they had done all game, responding to the moment with a big play of their own. This time it was Brogdon finding Greg Monroe under the rim after Al Horford slipped, for an easy dunk that made it a 101-96 game with 1:06 to play. 

A Celtics' time-out led to an Isaiah Thomas lay-up, making it a 101-97 game. Boston’s defense stiffened up, forcing a 24-second violation which led to a 20-second time-out by Boston with 36.9 seconds to play. The Celtics got another quick basket from Thomas who led all scorers with 32 points. 

Boston seemed on the verge of forcing a Milwaukee miss, only for Brogdon to step up with a clutch, tightly contested jumper that made it a 3-point game with 3.9 seconds to play. He finished with 16 points, nine assists and four rebounds.

Following a Celtics time-out, desperate for a 3-pointer to force overtime, Boston’s in-bounds pass was deflected. Marcus Smart was able to corral it before time expired, but his desperation was nowhere close to hitting the rim let alone going in. 

This game had the feel of a down-to-the-wire battle from the outset.

The Celtics were tied at 24-all after the first quarter, and trailed by six points at the half. Boston had good stretches in the third quarter, but once again found themselves trying to cut into Milwaukee’s lead which stood at 80-77 going into the fourth. But like each of the three previous quarters, the Celtics saw the window to close the gap slammed shut in their face as the Bucks opened the fourth with an 8-3 run to lead 88-80.

Boston’s uphill battle was fueled in part by a Milwaukee Bucks defense that didn’t give the Celtics many good looks at the rim. And offensively, Milwaukee’s ball movement was solid all game, generating lots of good looks at the rim. 

Despite all that, the Celtics were down just 90-87 following a 3-point play by Tyler Zeller. Boston had a chance to tie the game, only for Terry Rozier’s 3-pointer to hit the back of the rim and roll out. Bucks coach Jason Kidd knew he had to do something to slow the growing momentum by Boston, leading to him calling a time-out with 5:35 to play with it being a one-possession game. 

Boston continued to fight its way back into the game, and were within two (93-91) after Marcus Smart made the second of two free throws. 

He wasn’t done. 

Smart, who had his second double-double of the season with 11 points and a career high-tying 11 rebounds, scored on a driving lay-up to knot the game at 93-all with 2:46 to play. From there, the Celtics could not make the necessary plays to get the victory. 

Bruins still in waiting mode on Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Anders Bjork

Bruins still in waiting mode on Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Anders Bjork

BRIGHTON, Mass – While the NHL debut for Charlie McAvoy is a matter of “when” rather than “if” at this point after agreeing to an Amateur Tryout Contract (ATO) with the Boston Bruins, the jury is still out on Boston University center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and University of Notre Dame winger Anders Bjork become pros. 

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney says that Forsbacka-Karlsson has yet to make a “final decision” on his status for next season after BU’s elimination from the NCAA hockey tournament, and Bjork is readying for the Frozen Four this weekend along with the rest of his Fighting Irish teammates. The 20-year-old Forsbacka-Karlsson just wrapped up his sophomore season with the Terriers and posted 14 goals and 33 points in 38 games with a plus-11 rating, and has not given the Bruins any firm word on his plans for the immediate future. 

The urgency perhaps isn’t there for the Bruins to lock things up with Forsbacka-Karlsson right this second, because he wouldn’t be a factor for this year’s NHL team. 

Meanwhile the Bruins can’t do anything with the 20-year-old Bjork until at least the end of next weekend, but have been mightily impressed with a player that’s posted 21 goals and 52 points in 38 games for Notre Dame this season. Bjork had three assists in the game that propelled Notre Dame into the Frozen Four, and there would be a great deal of urgency for the Bruins to lock up a talented forward that might be able to help them right now. 

“I’ve been able to see [Bjork] a few times including the regional [in New Hampshire] last weekend, and he was outstanding. He played every other shift, he set up goals in the game and he’s had a really nice progression as a college player this season,” said Sweeney of the explosive Notre Dame junior, who was far and away the best player at B's development camp last summer. “They’ve done a fabulous job with their team, and hopefully they get to the Finals on Saturday against Harvard, and we get the best of both worlds seeing how our prospects play in the final game. He’s had a tremendous college career to this point, and we’re excited about his development.”

McAvoy is the front-burner issue for the Bruins at this point, but it would surprise exactly nobody if both Forsbacka-Karlsson and Bjork join him in Providence in the next couple of weeks as they wrap up their AHL season.