By Kate Hedlin
Boston (45-16-9) at Pittsburgh (36-26-8), 3:00 pm EDT
PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Back-to-back losses to the Boston Bruins
earlier this season helped temporarily drop the Pittsburgh
Penguins out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
After working their way back in, the Penguins hope another
matchup with the conference leaders at home Sunday won't send
them reeling again.
Pittsburgh is tied for fifth place with Montreal, but only one
point ahead of seventh-place Carolina and two points in front of
Florida and the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in
the tightly-packed East.
The Penguins suffered a home-and-home sweep at the hands of the
Bruins on December 30 and January 1. Those losses came in the
midst of a 5-13-0 stretch from December 6-January 10, which
dropped Pittsburgh to 10th in the conference.
The Penguins have played much better lately. After winning
seven straight, they've come away with a point in consecutive
losses, falling 4-3 in a shootout to Columbus earlier this week,
then losing by the same score in a shootout to Ottawa on
Pittsburgh rallied from a three-goal deficit against the Blue
Jackets to force overtime, but the Penguins were the one that
blew a lead Saturday, giving up two goals in the third period to
send the game to the extra session.
"It would have been nice to get that one, but ... in the third
we didn't give ourselves a really good chance," said Sidney
Crosby, who had a goal in the second period to extend his point
streak to nine games. "We got one point. Two would be much
better, but we can't really dwell on this right now. We have to
make sure that we maintain our game and play well back-to-back."
Crosby has four goals and 14 assists in 12 career games against
Mathieu Garon is expected to make his second start and third
appearance in net since Pittsburgh acquired him from Edmonton on
January 17. Garon, who is 2-1-0 with a 1.00 goals-against
average in his career against the Bruins, has not appeared in a
game on February 22 against Washington.
Boston, meanwhile, is seeking its third straight victory. The
Bruins defeated the New York Islanders, 2-1, at home Saturday.
Phil Kessel scored and added an assist on Marc Savard's goal,
and Tim Thomas recorded 21 saves to help Boston win consecutive
games after losing five of the previous six.
Kessel also had two goals in a 5-3 win over Ottawa on Thursday.
The right wing, who is third on the team with 52 points, had
only two goals and one assist in his previous eight games.
"He's what you saw when he's on his game, a game-breaker,"
Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "When he doesn't compete the
way he's been competing lately, he is a player that doesn't
bring as much to the table."
Boston has won four of five against the Penguins overall and is
13-3-2 versus Pittsburgh since January 8, 2004.