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NHL on NBC: Bruins visit Blackhawks, go for fifth win in a row

NBC’s coverage of the 2016-17 NHL season continues on Sunday afternoon with the Boston Bruins visiting the Chicago Blackhawks.

Puck drop is set for 12:30 p.m. ET and all of the action can be seen on NBC as well as our Live Stream.

Both teams have plenty to play for on Sunday as the Bruins are not only looking for the fifth win in a row after knocking off the Florida Panthers on Saturday afternoon, but are also looking to continue to solidify their playoff position. After all of Saturday’s results the Bruins still occupy the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, remaining four points clear of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the wild card race and only one point back of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic Division. With both Toronto and Ottawa off on Sunday, Boston could find itself in the No. 2 spot in the division with a win over the Blackhawks.

Boston still has games remaining against both Ottawa and Tampa Bay, before wrapping up their season at home against the Washington Capitals. Combined with Sunday’s game against Chicago that is a pretty tough schedule the rest of the way.

While the Blackhawks’ situation isn’t quite as dramatic as Boston’s when it comes to the playoff race (the Blackhawks have already clinched a playoff spot as well as the Central Division crown and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference) they are still in serious contention for the Presidents’ Trophy, sitting just three points back of the Capitals entering Sunday.

It was right around the start of February when the Blackhawks season really started to take off, having gone 20-4-2 since Feb. 1.

During that stretch the Blackhawks have won more games than any team in the league, outscored teams by a 92-64 margin, while they have three of the league’s top-15 scorers (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Artemi Panarin) during that stretch.

But the Bruins have been equally impressive offensively since then, averaging more than 3.6 goals per game while Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron have also been among the league’s top scorers. Marchand is just one goal away from making a little bit of Bruins history as his next one will be his 40th of the season. Only two Bruins have topped the 40-goal mark since 1993 (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02) and only 13 others have done it all-time.

In other words, these are two of the hotter teams in the NHL right now, the two absolute best offensive teams over the past two months, and they will be putting some high end individual talent on the ice on Sunday.

Marchand scores 39th goal as Bruins top Panthers

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The Boston Bruins picked up two huge points in their pursuit of a playoff spot on Saturday afternoon with a rather convincing 5-2 win over the collapsing Florida Panthers.

Patrice Bergeron scored a pair of goals in the win, while Brad Marchand was able to get one goal closer to the 40-goal mark when he scored his 39th of the season late in the third period to help put the game away.

Even the score remained close for much of the game (the Bruins pulled away with a couple of late goals) this was a pretty one-sided matchup as the Bruins dominated the game territorially and held a commanding edge on the shot chart through the first two periods. Late in the second period a costly turnover by Panthers goalie Reto Berra pretty much handed David Krejci his 23rd goal of the season for what would go on to be the game-winning goal.

Not the way you want to play that if you are an NHL goalie.

As for Marchand, his monster season for the Bruins continued as he added to his career-high in goals to keep him in second place on the NHL goal scoring leaderboard, currently trailing Sidney Crosby by four goals. Marchand needs just one goal over the Bruins final four games to become just the 14th different Bruin to score 40 goals in a season. He would be the first to do it since Glen Murray during the 2002-03 season. Only one other Bruin (Bill Guerin in 2001-02) has topped 40 since the 1992-93 season. Since the start of the 2015-16 season Marchand’s 76 goals are tied for the fourth most (Vladimir Tarasenko) in the NHL behind only Alex Ovechkin (83), Patrick Kane (80), and Sidney Crosby (79).

The win gives Boston 90 points in the standings and for the time being (pending the result of Saturday night’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings) moves them to the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. They are also just one point back of the Ottawa Senators.

For the Panthers, well, this one just continues a late season slide that has been the perfect ending to a woefully disappointing season. Since sweeping a five-game west coast road trip in Mid-February that seemed as if it could have been a turning point in their season, the Panthers are just 5-14-1 in the 20 games that have followed.

Brad Marchand leads the way for another crucial Bruins victory

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There was good news and, well, some not so good news for the Boston Bruins on Thursday.

Brad Marchand, as he’s done throughout this season, led the Bruins offensive attack versus the Dallas Stars, scoring the opening goal and assisting on Torey Krug‘s power play goal in the second period.

Marchand’s goal gives him 38 this season, which is the highest single season total for a Bruins player since Glen Murray in 2002-03. It also puts Marchand four goals back of Sidney Crosby for the league lead.

The Bruins won, shutting down the Stars by a final score of 2-0. Tuukka Rask made 27 saves for the shut out.

The win keeps the Bruins moving in the right direction as they look to lock up a playoff position — either the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, or perhaps a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division. The latter is still very much a possibility.

The New York Islanders had a horrendous start against the Philadelphia Flyers and it was costly, as they lost 6-3, meaning they fall six points behind Boston.

However, the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning, two teams chasing and still within striking distance of the Bruins in the wild card race, both won Thursday. The Hurricanes came back to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime, while the Bolts had a nice offensive outburst in the second period on their way to defeating the Detroit Red Wings.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were also victorious Thursday, so they retain third in the Atlantic, one point better than Boston.

The Bruins are three points up on Tampa Bay and four points up on Carolina. Both the Bolts and Hurricanes have a game in hand on Boston.

Meanwhile, there was a scary moment late in the Bruins-Stars game. Curtis McKenzie was rushed off the ice, clutching the right side of his face as blood dripped to the ice, after being clipped by a high stick from Kevan Miller off a faceoff.

Miller was assessed a double minor for high sticking on the play.

WATCH LIVE: Stars at Bruins

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The Boston Bruins hold the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and they will look to continue their push for the playoffs when they host the Dallas Stars on Thursday.

You can catch the game on NBCSN (7:30 p.m. ET) or online with NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins continue push for playoff spot against Stars

Stars go deeper than rock bottom in Ruff’s ‘worst game’ with team

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy