Penguins-Bruins Preview

The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Penguins had no problems beating one fellow Stanley Cup contender in their latest game despite the absence of Evgeni Malkin.

They'd love to see the same scenario unfold Saturday night in Boston.

With Malkin on the shelf again, the Penguins will try to extend their winning streak to six against a Bruins team that handed them their most recent defeat.

Pittsburgh (20-9-1) found out Thursday that a lower-body injury suffered during the morning skate would keep Malkin out that night versus San Jose, but it thrived even without the NHL's second-leading scorer. Sidney Crosby increased his league-leading total to 41 points with three assists, Chris Kunitz scored twice and Marc-Andre Fleury made 44 saves in a 5-1 rout of the Pacific Division-leading Sharks.

"No one is going to replace Geno," said winger Jayson Megna, who scored one of the Penguins' four goals in a seven-minute span early in the second period. "We have guys that fill in, step up. If we stick to our system we don't complain."

Pittsburgh will head to Boston without Malkin, but its injury concerns up front don't stop there. Pascal Dupuis left Thursday's game in the second period with a lower-body injury and may miss Saturday's game, while Andrew Ebbett suffered a broken ankle and was placed on injured reserve.

The Bruins (18-8-2), meanwhile, have issues on their back end. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk was taken off on a stretcher after a hit from behind by Montreal's Max Pacioretty in the first period of Thursday's 2-1 loss.

Boychuk was taken to the hospital but cleared to travel back to Boston. He'll undergo an MRI on his lower back there, though it appears he'll be out for a while.

"We're all hoping he's going to be okay, but at that moment you can't really do much; you're just hoping that he's going to be okay," said defensive partner Zdeno Chara. "It's never an easy sight."

The Bruins' play in the second was also tough to swallow for coach Claude Julien. Montreal scored both of its goals in that period while outshooting Boston 18-7.

Julien's team has a minus-2 goal differential in the second period this season. It has outscored opponents by 10 in the first and nine in the third.

"The second period was atrocious," Julien said. "It was unacceptable.

"There are no excuses about playing with five defensemen. We have to look in the mirror."

Defenseman Adam McQuaid has missed nine of the past 12 games with a groin injury, but the Bruins may be able to afford a dent in their defensive depth with Tuukka Rask in net. Rask has a 1.69 goals-against average and .941 save percentage at home, both among the best marks in the league.

He gave up only two goals in the Bruins' Eastern Conference finals sweep of Pittsburgh last spring, but has posted the same line in two starts against the Penguins this season - stopping 28 of 31 shots.

Pittsburgh won 3-2 at home Oct. 30, then the Bruins won 4-3 in overtime at the TD Garden on Nov. 25 despite blowing a two-goal, third-period lead as Crosby tied it with 0.3 seconds left.

The Penguins have the NHL's best power play (26.5 percent) while both Pittsburgh and Boston have top-five penalty kills, but don't expect special teams to be a huge part in this one. There have been a total of five power plays in the six-plus periods between the teams this season.

The only game in the last nine in which the Penguins failed to score with the man advantage (12 for 27, 44.4 percent) was when they went 0 for 1 against Boston.