After feasting on New Jersey cupcakes, on Sunday the Pittsburgh Penguins (31-14-3) begin a two-game set with the only playoff-seeded team in the East Division against whom they do not have a winning record (2-3-1), the big bad Boston Bruins (27-13-6). The puck drops at 3 p.m. in front of a national TV audience at PPG Paints Arena.
Adding to the intrigue, the teams are tight in the standings and three Penguins including Evgeni Malkin have suffered injuries by Boston’s hands (or shoulders, or sticks) this season.
Boston trails the Penguins by five points in the MassMutual East Division with eight Penguins games remaining, but Boston has two games in hand and could be within one point if they win those games.
Boston’s six-game win streak screeched to a halt on Thursday when the Buffalo Sabres hung a six-spot on them in a 6-4 loss.
Boston top-line center Patrice Bergeron was injured and is day-to-day. PHN will update the story as Bergeron’s status is known. Boston head coach Bruce Cassidy said Bergeron will take warmups and the final determination will be made then.
The Penguins had a very interesting week against the New Jersey Devils. The Penguins nearly blew a 6-0 lead but hung for a 7-6 win on Tuesday, and nearly lost a late 3-1 lead on Saturday. Regardless, the Penguins have the fifth-best goal differential in the NHL and are just one point behind the Washington Capitals for first place.
The Penguins’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is six points. Any combination of a Penguins point and the New York Rangers losing a point or two reduces that number.
Head coach Mike Sullivan will most likely put Tristan Jarry in the net. Backup Casey DeSmith started on Saturday. Jarry’s stats took a little beating after he allowed six goals in the third period on Tuesday but his record is 20-8-3 with a 2.79 GAA and a .908 save percentage.
Jeremy Swayman has been the Bruins’ best goalie this month and the unflappable former Maine star has been smiling no matter what the situation. The 22-year-old rookie is 5-1-0 with a .943 save percentage and ridiculous 1.43 GAA. He’s Boston’s likely starter.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines and Special Teams
|Jake Guentzel||Sidney Crosby||Bryan Rust|
|Jason Zucker||Evgeni Malkin||Kasperi Kapanen|
|Jared McCann||Jeff Carter||Freddy Gaudreau|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Teddy Blueger||Brandon Tanev|
|Brian Dumoulin||Kris Letang|
|Mike Matheson||Cody Ceci|
|Marcus Pettersson||John Marino|
|Brad Marchand||Patrice Bergeron||David Pastrnak|
|Taylor Hall||David Krejci||Craig Smith|
|Nick Ritchie||Sean Kuraly||Charlie Coyle|
|Trent Frederic||Curtis Lazar||Chris Wagner|
|Matt Grzelczyk||Charlie McAvoy|
|Mike Reilly||Kevan Miller|
|Jeremy Lauzon||Steve Kampher|
|TEAM||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||23.7%, 4th NHL||77.4%, 27th NHL|
|New York Islanders||18.8%, 21st NHL||83.7%, 6th NHL|
What to Watch
The Bruins have physically imposed themselves on the Penguins. From Jared Tinordi leveling Evgeni Malkin in early March, to Brad Marchand using his stick on Teddy Blueger who missed several weeks afterward.
The Bruins also have three lines going at maximum efficiency. Their top line, the “Perfection Line” with Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is always a threat. But Taylor Hall with David Krejci has caught fire as the second line and the Bruins fourth line led by Sean Kuraly has been a heavy shutdown line.
Watch how the Penguins handle the heavy Bruins play and their deep attack. The Penguins will need all hands on deck and to play a great game. It will be the closest thing to a playoff game that the Penguins have seen in weeks. The Penguins will have to control the puck, which means holding it low and spinning off contact on the walls, and quickly moving it out of the defensive zone.
If the Penguins open it up, they will lose. If the Penguins don’t get to the net, they will lose.
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
Position, Player (Consecutive Games Missed, Total Games Missed)
Evgeni Malkin (19 consecutive, 19 total)
Brandon Tanev (9 consecutive, 15 total)
Frederick Gaudreau (5 consecutive, 5 total) 2
2020-21 Total Regular-Season Man-Games Lost: 246
-The Penguins have won seven of their last eight games (7-1-0) against the Bruins here at home dating back to Dec. 14, 2016
-The Penguins have earned points in 15 of their last 18 games (13-3-2).
-The Penguins are 3-3-1 on the second night of back-to-back games.
-Cody Ceci has 11 points (2-9-11) over his last 14 games. He had just six points (2-4-6) in his first 31 games.
-Sidney Crosby scored his 20th goal of the season on Saturday, which made it the 13th time in his career he reached the feat. That is the most in Pittsburgh Penguins history.
-Jake Guentzel’s assist was his 50th point this season. The Penguins are one of just four teams with two 50-point players (Crosby, Guentzel) along with the Colorado Avalanche (Nathan Mackinnon/Mikko Rantanen), Edmonton Oilers (Leon Draisaitl/Connor McDavid), and the Toronto Maple Leafs (Auston Matthews/Mitch Marner).
-Kris Letang has 17 points (2-15-17) over his last 16 games which is third-most among all NHL blueliners during that span (since Mar. 24).
How to Watch:
TV: NBC; Radio: 105.9 The X