The Pittsburgh Penguins will play host to the Boston Bruins on Sunday, and they figure to be in opposite moods with each coming off three consecutive games against East Division bottom feeders.
The Penguins (31-14-3, 65 points) and Bruins (27-13-6, 60 points) are among the four teams that have opened some separation within the division and are jostling for position for matchups and home ice in the upcoming playoffs.
Pittsburgh just swept the New Jersey Devils in three consecutive games, including a 4-2 victory Saturday. Boston just won its first two games against the last place, yet much improved Buffalo Sabres before falling 6-4 on Friday.
The Penguins, who are in hot contention for the division title, expect a big push from the Bruins.
“Now we’ve got to reset,” Penguins winger Jared McCann said on the AT&T Sportsnet broadcast Saturday after scoring his team-leading seventh power-play goal. “We’ve got to take away some positives from these past couple games but move forward and try and be better (Sunday).”
If nothing else, they need to be better than the last time they played the Bruins. The Penguins gave up five goals in the second period of a 7-5 road loss on April 3 that ended a five-game winning streak.
Pittsburgh followed that one with an 8-4 defeat to the New York Rangers before getting back on track.
“That’s a pretty odd one,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think we’ve been better defensively since then. But I think it’s understanding that (Sunday) is going to be a playoff atmosphere and tight-checking game, so we’ll have to be ready to compete.”
Crosby scored a goal Saturday to set a franchise record with his 13th season of at least 20 goals.
Boston, meanwhile, could be without its captain, top-line center and No. 2 scorer, Patrice Bergeron, a four-time Selke Trophy winner. Bergeron traditionally plays a tight-checking game against fellow future Hall of Famer Crosby, including on faceoffs.
Bergeron missed Friday’s game after he blocked a shot with his left foot/ankle on Thursday. He finished that game but was a late scratch Friday.
“He’ll be day to day until we hear differently,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who juggled the personnel on his top three lines with Bergeron unavailable.
Without Bergeron out Friday, Boston fell behind 5-1, rallied furiously to trail by 5-4, but allowed an empty-netter in the final minute.
“He’s obviously our captain, but beyond that he’s just a great player, right?” Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller said of Bergeron. “He takes care of the puck on both sides, offense and defense. … We didn’t lose (Friday) because we were without (Bergeron); we lost because we didn’t play well. But, you know, it doesn’t hurt to have him in the lineup.”
Before the loss Friday at Buffalo, the Bruins had a season-best six-game winning streak.
The Penguins, who went with backup Casey DeSmith on Saturday, are likely to start No. 1 goalie Tristan Jarry on Sunday.
Cassidy said with No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask still working his way back from an injury – and getting pulled during Friday’s game – rookie Jeremy Swayman will start Sunday. Rask will start Tuesday in a rematch with the Penguins at Pittsburgh.
–Field Level Media