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Panthers set to host Bruins

by Matthew Mankiewich

BRUINS (10-2-2) at PANTHERS (5-8-4)


Last 10: Boston 7-2-1, Florida 3-3-4.

Season series: First of three and the only one at BB&T Center.

Big story: The Bruins are two points behind Eastern Conference leaders Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Montreal, but have as many as four games in hand on the trio, having played fewer games so far than anyone in the League. The Panthers, despite a four-game home losing streak and a sputtering 0-for-13 power play over that stretch, are still only three points behind first-place Carolina in the Southeast Division, and are trying to get on a roll after splitting a two-game trip through Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Team scope:

Bruins: Nobody kills penalties like the Bruins, who lead the NHL at 94.4 percent, a sizable margin over the Ottawa Senators' 89.9. Even then, they face the odd challenge, like when they started the third period Thursday night against the Lightning leading 3-2 with Zdeno Chara, one of the most important components of that near-invincible PK unit, in the box. Tampa Bay's power play, for the record, is a top-five unit itself, with Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis providing the firepower.

“We weren’t really overthinking it,” Andrew Ference told the Boston Globe about the discussions during the second intermission. “It’s been going well so far this year. We’re playing in unison. It’s not like a couple forwards doing their job, then a couple [defensemen] doing their job. All the guys are really reading off each other well this year.”

Not long after the Bruins killed the penalty, Nathan Horton scored his second of the game to make it a 4-2 game, a score that held in a good, solid road win.

Panthers: After one of the best efforts of the season, a 5-2 win in Philadelphia, the Panthers were right there with the Penguins Thursday night, riding young goalie Jacob Markstrom to a 1-1 tie after two periods. Tomas Kopecky then got a controversial call for slashing, which turned the table the Penguins' way, resulting in a Matt Niskanen goal seconds after the penalty expired. The 3-1 loss upset coach Kevin Dineen, who saw a 37-save effort from Markstrom go to waste.

"It's disappointing,'' Dineen said to the Sun-Sentinel. "Marky played well. It's frustrating. The tempo was big and it's decided on a penalty there at the end. We had a non-call when a guy attacks [Erik Gudbranson] after a clean hit.

"They whack at our goalie three times and our guy goes down there and they don't blow the whistle. That's a tough one to take.''

Who's hot: Tyler Seguin has a three-game goal-scoring streak, while Patrice Bergeron has had two straight multi-point games and six points in his last five. Brad Marchand has five in his last five. Likely starter Tuukka Rask has picked up most of the starts against the Panthers recently and has rewarded his team with a 4-1-0 record and a 0.97 goals-against average, his lowest against any Eastern Conference opponent. He's also 4-0-0 overall in his last four road starts.

Any talk about the Panthers these days centers around rookie phenom Jonathan Huberdeau, who had two goals and two assists in Philadelphia and leads the team in goals (8) and points (13). Jose Theodore has struggled recently in nets but boasts a 10-1-1 record with a 1.94 GAA in his last 12 starts versus the Bruins, while Scott Clemmensen had 32 saves against the Flyers for his first win of the season. Add that to Markstrom's performance and Dineen has some options. As is the coach's policy, however, the starter is never announced until just before game time.

Injury report: The Bruins enter the game with a clean bill of health. Panthers forward Kris Versteeg (chest) is skating but no return date has been set. Defensman Ed Jovanovski (knee) is out at least another week. Forward Scottie Upshall (ankle), has turned up his skating a notch and could be back by the end of the month.

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