Bruins-Penguins Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 04, 2011

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 16: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins stretches during the team warm-up prior to NHL action against the Vancouver Canucks on January 16, 2010 at General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Barely a month ago, the Boston Bruins were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but a torrid run has brought them within three points of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Boston will try to extend its 14-game point streak and move closer to the East-leading Penguins when it visits Pittsburgh on Monday night. The Bruins (16-7-1) have been on an amazing run over the last five weeks since they went into November with a conference-worst six points at 3-7-0. Boston carried its 13-0-1 surge into December with a third straight victory, 4-1 over Toronto on Saturday. While acknowledging the impressive stretch, coach Claude Julien looks forward to his team facing a little adversity this week. Monday begins a stretch of three games in four nights for the Bruins, who visit Pittsburgh (16-7-4), then Winnipeg on Tuesday before returning home to host Southeast Division-leading Florida on Thursday. "It is a good test," Julien said. "I'm kind of looking forward to it because it probably is what this team needs. Everything's been going pretty smoothly. In order for us to make sure we stay focused, we probably need a test like that." Boston hasn't faced much of a challenge recently, winning its last three by a combined 14-6. The Bruins got goals from David Krejci, Chris Kelly, Johnny Boychuk and Nathan Horton on Saturday while Tuukka Rask made 21 saves. The 14-game streak without a regulation loss is the Bruins' longest since recording at least one point in 17 straight games in 1983. Tim Thomas, a big reason for Boston's run last month, could be back in net Monday, looking to extend a personal nine-game winning streak. He has a 1.76 goals-against average and three shutouts during the run, although he split two starts against Pittsburgh last season, giving up seven goals. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner would create an enticing matchup against a dangerous Pittsburgh offense, which has been rolling since Crosby returned. While the Penguins have been at the top of the standings for much of the season, they've been most formidable with Crosby back following an absence of nearly 11 months due to a concussion. They improved to 5-1-1 with their captain in the lineup by defeating Carolina 3-2 on Saturday. Pittsburgh killed off a 5-on-3 power play that started with 2:04 remaining in the third period as backup goaltender Brent Johnson was solid even after the Hurricanes pulled their goaltender to have six skaters. "I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like that. It was gutsy by our guys," coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was a firing range. It seemed like they were coming from all over the place. Somehow we kept it out of the cage." The victory closed a 3-1-0 road trip for Pittsburgh, which is 7-0-1 in its last eight home games. Crosby had an assist Saturday, giving him 12 points since returning, while Evgeni Malkin also set up a goal, giving him 10 points in his last seven games. Malkin has 10 goals and 10 assists in 17 career games against the Bruins, including a five-game point streak. Crosby, who played in only one game against Boston last season, has 28 points in 18 meetings. "It's going to be an interesting game," Julien said. "Obviously a team that's doing extremely well. Sidney being back in the lineup. ... We know the challenge it represents." The road team won all four meetings last season.
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