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Bruins-Penguins Preview @NHLdotcom

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 (36-26-8) 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 (45-16-9) on Dec. 30 and Jan. 1. Those losses came in the midst of a 5-13-0 stretch from Dec. 6-Jan. 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 Saturday.

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 the Bruins.

Mathieu Garon is expected to make his second start and third appearance in net since Pittsburgh acquired him from Edmonton on Jan. 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 Feb. 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 Jan. 8, 2004.

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