Penguins-Bruins Preview

TOM CASTRO (STATS Senior Editor)
The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Penguins haven't missed a beat despite the absences of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and they're on the verge of securing the Eastern Conference title as a result.

The streaking Penguins can eliminate the heavy hearted Boston Bruins from contention and wrap up the top spot in the Eastern Conference when the teams meet at TD Garden on Friday night.

Pittsburgh (33-10-0) has won five in a row without Crosby, who's still out with a broken jaw, and Malkin is nursing a shoulder injury that has kept him out the past two. Those two players, along with forward James Neal and defenseman Paul Martin, may not play again in the regular season as coach Dan Bylsma tries to get them healthy for the playoffs.

Thanks to the team's astute acquisitions over the past year, the Penguins have had little trouble overcoming the absences. They led 4-0 early in the second period against Montreal on Wednesday and held on for a 6-4 victory.

Brenden Morrow scored twice for the second straight game to give him five goals and three assists in a four-game point streak, fellow recent pickups Jarome Iginla and Doug Murray also scored while Brandon Sutter - acquired in June - added two goals.

''I think good habits are contagious, and everyone's kind of got a good tradition here of winning habits,'' Morrow said.

That tradition has extended to matchups with the Bruins, whom they've beaten five straight times - twice this year - and five in a row in Boston. The teams will be meeting at TD Garden for the first time this season.

Extending those streaks will give the Penguins the top spot in the East. They are four points behind Chicago for the top overall seed.

It remains to be seen whether the Bruins (26-11-5) are able to concentrate on staving off likely elimination from the race for the conference title. The club will be playing its second game - both at home - since the bombings that killed three and injured hundreds during the Boston Marathon on Monday.

The Bruins lost 3-2 in a shootout to Buffalo on Wednesday after their game against Ottawa on Monday was postponed due to the attacks.

"It was still positive in the way that we had an event and we had cheering and we had people out and about, having a good time,'' defenseman Andrew Ference said. ''To get a win, we wanted it so bad. I think you still take the good from the night.''

The Bruins led 2-1 late in the second period on goals from Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly, but they surrendered Cody Hodgson's power-play tally with 27 seconds left in the third. Boston, which lost its season-high third straight, had 17 of its 43 shots in the final 20 minutes.

Boston clinched a playoff spot by earning one point Wednesday, though it was something of an afterthought given the circumstances. The emotions Friday could still be raw for fans with the city still gripped with fear and sorrow just four days after the bombings.

On Wednesday, the Penguins wore stickers on their helmets depicting the American flag behind a silhouette of the Boston skyline with the city's 617 area code in front of it to honor the victims. Those seem likely to stay on for this game.

''You're around thousands of people you don't know, but it's like we're all one,'' said center Brad Marchand, who returned Wednesday from a two-game absence due to a concussion and admitted to fighting back tears during the national anthem. ''It was special there tonight and very emotional.''

Tomas Vokoun made 31 saves and stopped all 12 shots in the third period to lead the Penguins to a 2-1 victory in the latest meeting March 17. Pittsburgh won for the seventh time in eight meetings despite getting outshot 32-18.

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