After what could at best be described as a two-month malaise, the Boston Bruins' play over the past two weeks has them looking like perhaps the Eastern Conference's hottest team heading into the playoffs.
The once-surging Pittsburgh Penguins, on the other hand, are hoping they didn't peak too soon.
While the Bruins have little to gain in the final week with the East's second seed wrapped up, the sputtering Penguins will still have home-ice advantage in their sights Tuesday night as they look to win a fifth straight visit to TD Garden.
Boston (47-28-4) allowed a league-best average of 1.70 goals while going 25-4-1 during a 30-game stretch from the beginning of November until mid-January. The Bruins, though, went 12-16-2 over their next 30 while yielding 3.27 goals per game - the NHL's worst mark in that two-month span.
With the playoffs approaching, though, the Bruins seem to have ironed out their issues. Boston has surrendered 16 goals while going 7-1-1 in its last nine, and it clinched the Northeast Division title and No. 2 seed in the East by beating the New York Rangers 2-1 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
"We were struggling for a while, a couple months, getting a win here and there, losing a game here and there, but never really winning on a consistent basis that we're used to," defenseman Dennis Seidenberg told the league's official website after scoring for the second straight game. "We're playing well at the right time. We just have to keep building and keep getting ready for the playoffs and go in rolling."
That's what the Penguins (48-25-6) envisioned they'd be doing during an 11-game winning streak Feb. 21-March 17, particularly after getting Sidney Crosby back for the final two games of that run.
They were within a point of catching the Rangers for the East's top spot March 23, but have since lost four of six to fall five points behind New York. A 6-4 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday allowed the Flyers - Pittsburgh's near-certain playoff opponent - to pull within a point for home-ice in that first-round clash.
The Penguins outshot Philadelphia 47-26, but have given up 29 goals on 165 shots during their recent rough patch.
"I think for the most part we generated some really good chances, but with the mistakes that we made, we can't afford to make those and expect to win games," Crosby told the team's official website. "We've got to limit those, but on the flip side I think we did some pretty good things as well and got a lot of shots."
Pittsburgh has won four straight in Boston, but Crosby hasn't played much of a role in those victories. He's only been healthy for one, and hasn't had a point in his last three trips.
This will be Crosby's first game against the Bruins since he began experiencing concussion-like symptoms again after a 3-1 home loss to Boston on Dec. 5. Pittsburgh has won both meetings since with Evgeni Malkin recording a goal and three assists.
Tim Thomas was pulled after 20 minutes in a 5-2 defeat March 11 and has gone 2-3-2 with a 3.32 goals-against average in his last seven starts in the series.
Marc-Andre Fleury has gone 6-2-0 with a 1.75 GAA in his last eight starts against Boston, surrendering 14 goals in those games - the same total he's allowed in his last three contests overall.
Bruins leading scorer Tyler Seguin has no points in three career home games against the Penguins.
Pittsburgh's Pascal Dupuis has a point in 14 consecutive games, the longest individual streak in the NHL this season.
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