The Pittsburgh Penguins haven't missed a beat despite the absences of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and they're on the verge of securing the Eastern Conference's best record as a result.
The streaking Penguins can eliminate the heavy-hearted Boston Bruins from contention for the top seed in the Eastern Conference while wrapping it up themselves when the teams meet at TD Garden on Saturday.
This game was postponed from Friday night amid the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, which left one suspect dead after a shootout with law enforcement before the other was cornered and taken into custody late Friday. The massive search in and around Boston caused a virtual shutdown of the city, with businesses told not to open, people ordered to stay indoors and mass transit closed down.
Saturday night's originally scheduled game between Buffalo and the Penguins in Pittsburgh was rescheduled for Tuesday.
Pittsburgh (33-10-0) has won five in a row without Crosby, who's out with a broken jaw, and Malkin is nursing a shoulder injury that has kept him out the past two. Those two, along with forward James Neal and defenseman Paul Martin, may not play again in the regular season as coach Dan Bylsma tries to get them healthy for the playoffs.
Thanks to the team's astute acquisitions over the past year, the Penguins have had little trouble overcoming the absences. They led 4-0 early in the second period against Montreal on Wednesday and held on for a 6-4 victory.
Brenden Morrow scored twice for the second straight game to give him five goals and three assists in a four-game point streak, fellow recent pickups Jarome Iginla and Douglas Murray also scored while Brandon Sutter - acquired in June - added two goals.
"I think good habits are contagious, and everyone's kind of got a good tradition here of winning habits,' Morrow said.
That tradition has extended to matchups with the Bruins, whom they've beaten five straight times - twice this year - and five in a row in Boston. The teams will be meeting at TD Garden for the first time this season.
Extending those streaks will give the Penguins the top spot in the East, also eliminating Montreal from contention for the conference's best record. They trail Chicago for the No. 1 overall seed.
It remains to be seen whether the Bruins (26-11-5) are able to concentrate on staying in the hunt for home-ice advantage throughout the East playoffs. The club will be playing its second game - both at home - since the bombings killed three and injured hundreds Monday.
The developments of late Thursday and early Friday, in which an MIT police officer was also killed by the suspects before they exchanged gunfire with law enforcement, only added to the distraction from hockey.
The Bruins lost 3-2 in a shootout to Buffalo on Wednesday after their game against Ottawa on Monday was postponed due to the attacks.
"It was still positive in the way that we had an event and we had cheering and we had people out and about, having a good time,' defenseman Andrew Ference said. "To get a win, we wanted it so bad. I think you still take the good from the night.'
The Bruins led 2-1 late in the second period on goals from Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly, but they surrendered Cody Hodgson's power-play tally with 27 seconds left in the third. Boston, which lost its season-high third straight, had 17 of its 43 shots in the final 20 minutes.
Boston clinched a playoff spot by earning one point Wednesday, though it was something of an afterthought given the circumstances. The emotions Saturday will still be raw for fans amid the fear of the previous day and sorrow over Monday's tragedy.
On Wednesday, the Penguins wore stickers on their helmets depicting the American flag behind a silhouette of the Boston skyline with the city's 617 area code in front of it to honor the victims. Those seem likely to stay on for this game.
"You're around thousands of people you don't know, but it's like we're all one,' said Bruins center Brad Marchand, who returned Wednesday from a two-game absence due to a concussion and admitted to fighting back tears during the national anthem. "It was special there tonight and very emotional.'
Tomas Vokoun made 31 saves and stopped all 12 shots in the third period to lead the Penguins to a 2-1 victory in the latest meeting March 17. Pittsburgh won for the seventh time in eight meetings despite getting outshot 32-18.
The Associated Press News Service
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