There’s plenty on the line tonight as Pittsburgh hosts Boston in a matchup of the Eastern Conference’s two top teams.
For Boston: 14 straight games unbeaten in regulation; Tim Thomas’s 10-game winning streak, a chance to move within one point of the Penguins.
For Pittsburgh: Eight straight home games unbeaten in regulation; two-game winning streak, a chance to move five points clear of the Bruins.
Of course, Boston will have a major advantage in the health department.
The B’s have been at full strength almost the entire year, no small feat considering their lengthy Stanley Cup run and short offseason. Eleven players have suited up for all 24 games, allowing head coach Claude Julien to maintain consistency with his lineup — probably a big reason why Boston’s playing so well as of late.
The Pens, meanwhile, have had a much tougher go of things. The injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were well-documented, but the ones Pittsburgh’s suffered on defense have been bad, if not worse. Pittsburgh could be without five defensemen tonight — Kris Letang (out, concussion), Zbynek Michalek (out, concussion), Deryk Engelland (day-to-day, lower body), Ben Lovejoy (out, wrist) and Brian Strait (out, elbow) — leaving Dan Bylsma with Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, a pair of rookies (Roberto Bortuzzo, Simon Despres) and a career journeyman (Alexandre Picard) on the blueline.
Of note: Letang and Michalek became the fifth and sixth Penguins to suffer concussions over the last two years. The others included Crosby, Arron Asham, Eric Tangradi and Tyler Kennedy.