The series is tied, with the Pens picking up a 3-2 win at home in October. The Bruins earned a 4-3 overtime win on November 25 at TD Garden, thanks to Torey Krug's game-winner after Sidney Crosby had scored with just 0.3 left in regulation to tie it up.
The Bruins are looking for a bounceback performance tonight, following their 2-1 loss to Montreal on Thursday. The Pens, meanwhile, are looking to continue a five-game winning streak that started after the loss to Boston.
"They’re going to be playing on a lot of confidence," said Captain Zdeno Chara. "They won five games in a row so, we've just got to be ready for them. We’ve got to bring our best game, and finish on a good note before we head on our long road trip."
After tonight, the Bruins hit the road for a four-game trip starting in Toronto Sunday night. The matchup with the Pens presents an opportunity to play a more consistent game than what they showed in Montreal.
"We've just got to stay really focused," said Zee. "Take one period at a time, really regroup after each period and refocus, so we do have a better 60-minute game."
"Right now that’s where our challenge is -- is we’re trying to create some emotion for 60 minutes and consistency in our game," said Head Coach Claude Julien. "And hopefully that last game kind of gave us a wakeup call in regards to that."
Why the inconsistency?
"We have some good ideas that we are not going to share with you guys," smiled Chara. "But, for sure, we can be better. We talked about it. We watch some videos and we see what’s kind of happening and I think, hopefully, it’s mental."
Zee's approach to the game is simple - "new game, new opportunity" - and expect the Bruins to come out with that same attitude tonight.
We talk a lot about the Bruins' style of play. When they play with emotion, intensity and physicality, it (say it with me now) more often than not, results in a win.
It's about the preparation, and being ready mentally.
"You should be really proud to be playing in the NHL. That’s really as simple as that," said Chara. "You should take a lot of pride in playing in this league and competing against the best players and that should be the number one motivation. That says it all. You should be really motivated and emotionally ready for every game."
"For us, when you don’t see that emotion on our face, it kind of tells a big story in our game and we saw that the second period in Montreal, we saw that in Detroit and so on," said forward Daniel Paille.
"So for us, it’s definitely important to have high intensity because that’s a key identity in our group."
What's At Stake
Tonight's matchup with Pittsburgh presents the type of game that should warrant just that. The Pens are at the top of the Eastern Conference with 41 points. The Bruins are close behind with 38.
It may only be game No. 29, but the battle between two of the top teams in the East has plenty of meaning.
"Both of us like to try to stay at the top of the conference as long as we can," said forward Daniel Paille.
"It’s going to be important to have that kind of killer instinct -- I thought our practice [on Friday] was good, and I think we can bring that into the game and have that kind of a mentality."
The Boston-Pittsburgh matchup will never have Boston-Montreal status when it comes to rivalries, but clearly, the two teams have become two of the top measuring sticks.
"Obviously playing each other last year in the Eastern Conference Finals and the last couple of years, we’ve always been right up there together in the standings," said Milan Lucic. "So they always end up being close games, big games, tough games for both teams and we shouldn’t expect anything different here tonight."
Miller Sliding In
With Johnny Boychuk injured (back sprain, 3-7 days) and Adam McQuaid out day-to-day (lower body), Kevan Miller will once again fill in on the blueline. He's been recalled with the team since December 2, but had not suited up yet in game action.
The praise for the defenseman remains.
"He’s played really well for us here," said Julien. "He’s a big strong individual; he handles the physicality and the battles really well along the walls. He’s also a guy that I think has made some really good first passes, not fancy but effective."
"He’s been reliable. I haven’t seen him make a lot, if any, major mistakes. So I like the fact that he’s a young player at the NHL level playing with lots of confidence and has all the tools that’s provided to him to be successful here."
"It was unfortunate that Johnny went down," said Miller. "I just need to be ready to go in case I’m called upon. It was unfortunate and Quaider as well, so I’m just ready to do my job."
"I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. Obviously, huge confidence boost getting the first game and then from there it’s just trying to roll with it."
Both Boston and Pittsburgh held optional skates before tonight's game.
For the Bruins, 15 players choice to hit the ice, with the rest of the group getting in off-ice work.
Forwards on: Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Jordan Caron, Chris Kelly, Carl Soderberg, Reilly Smith
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Kevan Miller
Chad Johnson was the goalie on the ice, with Tuukka Rask staying off. Johnson will likely get one of these games coming up, as the Bruins play a stretch of five games in eight days, starting with Pittsburgh tonight.
The Bruins are without rugged defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid, while the Pens have offensive weapon Evgeni Malkin sidelined (lower body), along with a host of other injuries both up front and on the blueline.
But Boston and Pittsburgh are teams that have the depth to keep rolling along.
"I think both organizations have a lot of talent which is definitely a luxury," said Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik. "You look around the league, everybody wants defensemen. The kid [Kevan] Miller played against us last game and played really well. Torey Krug and then I know a bunch of guys they have in Providence, if they were on other organizations they’d probably be playing in the NHL right now."
"So it’s definitely a luxury both teams have that helps us get through these injuries like we have been and still be successful."
Projected Boston Lineup
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Jarome Iginla
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Loui Eriksson
Carl Soderberg-Chris Kelly-Reilly Smith
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Dougie Hamilton
Dennis Seidenberg-Torey Krug
Matt Bartkowski-Kevan Miller