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Pittsburgh vs. Boston Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (36-26-8-80) vs. Boston Bruins (45-16-9-99)

Where: Mellon Arena
Sunday, March 15, 3 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: The Penguins are 1-2-0 against the Bruins this year with an 0-1-0 mark at Mellon Arena.
Note: Penguins senior advisor Ed Johnston will be honored prior to the game in recognition of his 25 years with the Penguins organization.



  Pens vs. Bruins 1/1

Responsible Defense: The Bruins roll four lines that are capable of scoring. Pittsburgh will have to execute defensively or else Boston will burn them. The Bruins like to play an up-tempo style and the Penguins will surely match their pace. However, Pittsburgh can’t get caught cheating or else the puck will end up in its net.

Transition Game:
No one will confuse any of the current Bruins defensive squad with Bobby Orr but they try and imitate him. Boston’s defense joins the rush and has gotten caught deep on plays this season. If the Penguins can trap those defensemen with quick transition passes, then Pittsburgh can create odd-man rushes the other way.
Head coach Claude Julien ended a two-year postseason drought when he led the Bruins into the playoffs last season in his first year behind the bench. Boston sneaked into the playoffs as the eight seed and stubbornly forced a seventh game before falling to top-seeded Montreal – a team that was 8-0 against the Bruins in the regular season. The Bruins rode their late-season success and carried that momentum into the current campaign.

The Boston Bruins are the best team in the Eastern Conference right now, and possibly the best in the league. Boston has a 45-16-9 record for 99 points, six points ahead of the next closest team in the conference. Boston built its lead in the standings with two unbelievable months. Boston lost only once in December (12-1-0) and went 8-3-2 in January. The Bruins had a 15-1-0 stretch during the season. However, Boston is 6-8-3 in its past 17 contests.
Penguins’ killer Glen Murray is gone, along with Glenn Metropolit. Ryder was general manager Peter Chiarelli’s big free agent signee. Forward Blake Wheeler was a lower-level signing from Phoenix. Patrice Bergeron and Manny Fernandez were already on the team, but only played in a combined 14 games last season. So their return is possibly the biggest addition to the team. At the trade deadline, Chiarelli made two moves. Sending Petteri Nokelainen to Anaheim for Steve Montador. Then he shipped Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff to Tampa Bay for Mark Recchi and a second-round pick in 2010.
The Bruins have the best-best offense in the East with 3.27 goals per game. Seven of the team’s players have over 40 points on the season. Marc Savard is one of the best playmakers in the NHL and has the production to prove it. He leads the Bruins with 54 assists and 76 points, the eighth-most in the league. His 54 setups are the fifth (tied) most in the NHL. Savard has always been a better set-up man than a finisher and has excelled with the goal-scoring development of Philip Kessel. The Madison, Wisconsin native has already netted a team-best and career-high 30 goals. Kessel is displaying the scoring touch that blew away scouts and led many to rate him as the best prospect in the 2006 draft. The duo is skating alongside breakout player Blake Wheeler.

The strides made by second-line center David Krejci are remarkable. The former second-round pick is second on the team in scoring with 62 points on 21 goals and 41 assists. He’s blown way passed the numbers he put up in his entire rookie campaign. The acquisition of Michael Ryder (two 30-goal seasons) from Montreal has given Krejci someone who can bury his passes. Ryder has 23 scores on the season, including seven game-winners. Milan Lucic, a 20-year-old rookie, is having a great season with 35 points (13G-22A). But the 6-foot-4, 220-pound plays with intensity and loves to get physical. Recchi is skating on the third line with Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew.
Boston doesn’t just have the East’s best offense. The Bruins are the best defensive squad in the NHL, allowing a league-low 2.21 goals per game. The Bruins defense is anchored by the giant 6-foot-9, 255-pound Zdeno Chara. He’s the best defenseman in the league and a dominant presence on the ice. He’s paired with the Bruins other shutdown defenseman, Aaron Ward. Former Penguin Andrew Ference had a great start to the season with a plus-9 rating through 16 games but a broken right tibia will force him to miss two months.

Dennis Wideman re-signed to a four-year deal in the offseason. The 25-year-old logged more than 25 minutes a game and now will have to prove that he was worth the $15.5-million investment. Matt Hunwick has impressed the coaching staff in his stint in replacement of Ference. The 23-year-old rookie has 19 points and a plus-12 rating. Mark Stuart and Shane Hnidy round out the group.
The Bruins have the best one-two goaltending tandem in the NHL in Manny Fernandez and Tim Thomas. Thomas has played the bulk of the game but both men are statistically ranked high in several categories. The 34-year-old Thomas has a 30-10-6 record (fourth most wins in the NHL) while leading the entire league with a 2.06 goals against average and .932 save percentage. Not to be outdone, Fernandez is 14-6-3 with a 2.39 GAA (ranking second) and .915 save percentage. Fernandez’s return from right knee surgery has eased the burden on Thomas. He seemed to tire late last season but the Bruins hope Fernandez’s return keep both men fresh.
The 31-year-old center appears to be in the prime of his career. Savard had a breakout season three years ago when he produced 97 points and an astonishing 69 assists with Atlanta. He proved that season wasn’t a fluke the following year when he recorded 74 assists and 96 points in his first season with Boston. Savard is currently eighth in the NHL scoring race with 22 goals and 54 assists for 76 points. His 54 assists are the fifth-highest total. Not to mention his remarkable plus-25 rating. Savard has been a thorn in the Penguins side throughout his career. In 31 games against the Penguins, he’s notched 43 points on 11 goals and 32 assists. He tallied five points (2+3) the in the last two games against the Penguins.
“It's a nice season. I give a lot of credit to my teammates and linemates I've been playing with this year.”
- Phil Kessel told the AP on hitting the 30-goal mark
30: Tim Thomas and Phil Kessel both hit the No. 30 against the NY Islanders on Saturday. Kessel netted his 30th goal of the year while Thomas posted his 30th win.

Author: Sam Kasan

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