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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Penguins, Thursday March 18th

Who knew? There’s apparently a little hockey game at TD Garden this evening.

The much anticipated homecoming for the Boston Bruins (31-26-12) is finally here, as they host Matt Cooke and the Pittsburgh Penguins (41-24-5) after a season-long seven-game road trip.

Any preview of this game has to obviously start with Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Cooke of course is now infamous throughout the hockey world for his hit to the head of Boston’s Marc Savard a week ago Sunday that left the Bruins center flattened on the ice, likely out for the remainder of the season with a concussion. The talk around town leading up to this game… “Will the B’s seek revenge on Cooke and/or his teammates?”

Plenty to talk about heading into tonight’s tilt, so let’s not waste any more time…

  • This is the final meeting between these two teams this season, although the two could match up in the first round of the playoffs, if Boston makes it of course. In each of the three games this season, the home team has come out on top, most recently on March 7th, when Pittsburgh earned a 2-1 win.
  • With the thought that tonight’s game will likely have a certain sense of grit and tension to it, the NHL has beefed up the crew of officials assigned to tonight’s contest. The referees will be Bill McCreary, who is second to only Kerry Fraser in games officiated, and Stephen Walkom, who before this year, was the NHL’s director of officiating for four years. Tonight’s linesmen are Tony Sericolo and Brian Murphy.
  • Both teams are coming off 5-2 games, but on the opposite ends. Boston earned a much-needed two points Tuesday night in Raleigh, N.C. over the Hurricanes, behind a three-goal third period that helped the good guys pull away. Pittsburgh on the other hand, fell to division rival New Jersey Wednesday night, leaving the Pens and Devils knotted atop the Atlantic Division, each with 87 points.
  • Everyone will have their eyes glued to Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Cooke tonight. While he was not present at the team’s optional morning skate, Cooke is likely to suit up, and will likely take his licks from the Bruins enforcers.
  • At the Bruins’ morning skate, Blake Wheeler, Dennis Wideman, and Johnny Boychuk were all absent with flu-like symptoms. All three are game-time decisions. Andrew Ference (groin) did skate with the team and could be in the lineup tonight, if not Sunday against the Rangers. Patrice Bergeron, who took a puck off the knee in Tuesday’s game, was skating without any limitation, and should be in tonight’s lineup, no problem. Tuukka Rask will take his league-leading 2.09 GAA into tonight’s game, as he is likely to start.
  • We won’t see one of Pittsburgh’s most lethal offensive weapons tonight, as Evgeni Malkin will miss his second straight game with a leg injury. Malkin took a puck off his leg in Sunday’s game with Tampa Bay, and while he did test it on the ice this morning, he is a no-go for tonight. Eric Godard (groin) also skated this morning, but is unlikely to crack the lineup tonight as well.
  • The NHL’s leading goal scorer, Sidney Crosby, sits atop the Pittsburgh stat sheet, with 45 goals and 42 assists. He has 25 points in 16 career games vs. Boston. Behind Crosby is Malkin (23G, 46A), followed by center Jordan Staal (19G, 27A).
  • The Penguins feature a goaltending duo of Marc-Andre Fleury (32-18-4, 2.70GAA) and Brent Johnson (9-5-1, 2.61GAA). Look for Fleury to get the nod tonight.
  • Lastly, the 1970 Stanley Cup champion Bruins team will be honored during tonight’s game, marking the 40th anniversary of their storied run to the Cup. The likes of Phil Esposito, Derek Sanderson, and Bobby Orr will be in attendance. Hopefully they are treated to an entertaining, physical, Bruins victory tonight.

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