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First in East up for grabs for Bruins, Penguins

by Mike Battaglino

BRUINS (19-4-3) at PENGUINS (21-8-0)


Last 10: Boston 7-2-1; Pittsburgh 8-2-0

Season series: This is the second of three meetings. The teams played here Tuesday, with Pittsburgh getting a 3-2 win, scoring three times in the third period after trailing 2-0 in the first.

Big story: First place in the Eastern Conference is up for grabs, with each team playing the second of a back-to-back. The Pittsburgh Penguins have won eight in a row after a 3-0 win against the New York Rangers; the Boston Bruins have won five of six after defeating the Washington Capitals 4-1.

Team Scope:

Bruins: After avenging its second-most-recent loss Saturday, Boston will look to reverse the result it suffered in Pittsburgh earlier in the week. The Bruins' home game Saturday was filled with emotion, with three separate fights.

"We'd like to bring this kind of game into tomorrow's game and get another 60-minute effort," coach Claude Julien told NESN. "We can be a physical team, a resilient team, and hopefully we'll bring that to Pittsburgh tomorrow."

Julien challenged the line of Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and David Krejci to improve, and the forwards responded with two goals and seven assists Saturday, including Krejci's 300th career point.

"I like the way we played, but one game doesn't make the season," Krejci said. "We know we have to play better tomorrow."

The Bruins blocked 26 shots in the game Tuesday with backup Anton Khudobin in net. Tuukka Rask likely will start Sunday.

Penguins: Pittsburgh's methodical climb to the top of the Eastern Conference was built on offensive production spurred by Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Saturday against the Rangers, the Penguins got goals from Beau Bennett and Tyler Kennedy.

"When we go out there we try to do our best to play responsible (on defense) and then capitalize on our chances," Bennett told the team's website.

The shutout capped a run of four games in which the Penguins have allowed four goals, coinciding with the return of defenseman Mark Eaton six games ago.

"The stability at which he plays -- a stay-at-home defenseman, I'm not sure we have that definition on our team," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Mark has been real stable back there -- defending, position-wise, has been excellent."

Marc-Andre Fleury was barely tested making 23 saves for his franchise-record 23rd career shutout and could be given his first consecutive-days starts of the season.

"We all know how good [Fleury] is," forward Pascal Dupuis said. "He doesn't need shutouts and records for us to know he's our go-to guy and the guy that we trust to win games."

Bylsma would not rule out a return by forward Evgeni Malkin, who has missed three games with an upper-body injury unrelated to a concussion which cost him four games earlier this season.

Who's hot: The Bruins are 5-0-0 in day games this season. The line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin has 29 points in eight March games, and is a combined plus-22. … Dupuis has seven goals in his past six games. Defenseman Kris Letang has 13 points in his past eight games.

Injury report: Malkin is the only injured Penguins player. … Bruins forward Chris Kelly (broken leg) is out.

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