Bruins, Pens tilt could be preview of playoff series
BOSTON -- If you happened to glance at the NHL standings heading into play Wednesday night, you know the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, who face each other Thursday night at TD Garden, could meet down the road in a playoff series.
The last time the league's two black and gold teams met in the playoffs was in 2013, when the Bruins swept four straight from the Pens to advance to the Stanley Cup final.
It was NOT a series that saw two teams exchanging pleasantries, with the nastiness even including a fight between non-fighters Evgeni Malkin and Patrice Bergeron.
The series officially turned Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby into an official TD Garden villain -- and also marked the time Bruins television voice Jack Edwards compared Matt Cooke to Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan.
Back to the present.
Through Tuesday, the Bruins were in third place in the Atlantic Division, a point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, but with a whopping five games in hand. They trailed the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning by five with two games in hand.
The Penguins, who had an 11-game home winning streak snapped by the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, were also in third, in the Metropolitan, two points ahead of New Jersey and two behind Philadelphia.
The same night, the Pens lost to the Devils, a young team that just won't go away. And the loss came a day after goaltender Matt Murray suffered a concussion in practice.
Casey DeSmith played Tuesday night, as the Penguins lost for only the fourth time in their last 15 games.
"I don't think you can exhale and take it easy," Crosby said after the game. "You have to find a way to keep that hunger. It's going to be a fight until the end and we have to have a consistent effort."
They'll need it Thursday against the Bruins, playing the second game of a six-game homestand -- and also playing their second game without the injured Bergeron, out with a right foot fracture.
"I think it will be good for us because it will show us where we're at," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Kind of a measuring stick game."
Cassidy indicated defenseman Nick Holden, acquired from the New York Rangers in a trade that preceded the Nash deal, would likely make his Bruins debut Thursday night. Brian Gionta, signed by the Bruins after playing for the US Olympic team, is still awaiting his debut with his new team. He knew coming in his role was anything but set.
The teams have split their two games this season, each winning at home, but the Penguins haven't won in Boston since 2014. Boston is 9-1-3 in its last 13 games against Pittsburgh, 6-0-1 in its last seven home games.
Anton Khudobin was in goal for the Bruins' win over the Pens on Nov. 24 -- his fourth straight victory in what was becoming a goalie controversy that quickly disappeared. Tuukka Rask was in the net for a 6-5 Penguins overtime victory Jan. 7 and is expected to start Thursday.
Rask is 9-6-3 with a 2.50 goals-against average and .920 save percentage lifetime against the Penguins.
Tristan Jarry, who was in goal for Pittsburgh's 6-5 win over Boston, was sent to the minors Monday but quickly recalled when Murray was injured. DeSmith is 3-3-0 with a 2.24 GAA and .926 save percentage.