Big Story: It wasn't long ago -- mere weeks, in fact -- that Pittsburgh sat outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference after hitting the skids while being decimated by injuries, while Boston seemed practically unbeatable. Following a 1-0 loss to the Capitals on Jan. 11, the Penguins went on an eight-game winning streak that just ended Wednesday, while the Bruins have alternated wins and losses over the same span.
Penguins: In the back end of a home-and-home with Toronto, a desperate team on the fringes of the playoff race, Pittsburgh battled to a scoreless tie deep into the third period of their game at the Air Canada Centre. The Penguins had rallied from three goals down in the third to win in a shootout on Tuesday, but their offense ran dry on this occasion. Brent Johnson, making a rare start, matched James Reimer save for save until Clarke MacArthur scored with 6:05 remaining, dealing the Pens a tough 1-0 defeat.
"It was a much different game from [Tuesday]," forward Craig Adams told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, adding the Penguins turned in a better overall performance Wednesday night. "We just couldn't get one to go in and we made a mistake at the end."
Bruins: The good news for Boston is that unless Carolina makes a furious push down the stretch and climbs over seven teams in the standings, the Bruins won't have to see the Hurricanes again until the 2012-13 season. Despite residing in the East basement, the Canes completed a four-game season sweep Thursday night by topping the Bruins 3-0 at TD Garden. It wasn't for lack of effort by the home team, as Boston put 47 shots on Cam Ward. But the Carolina goalie stopped them all, highlighting just how the games between the teams have gone this season.
"There's certain teams during certain years that will give you a hard time," coach Claude Julien told the Boston Globe. "They have. They've played us well. They've made it hard on us.
"At the same time, they've come in here with a lot of confidence. They beat us the last three games. Pretty soundly. That's what the situation is."
Who's Hot: Both teams were blanked in their last game, but Evgeni Malkin was named the NHL's Second Star for the month of January earlier this week after scoring 12 goals in as many games for the Penguins. That included the tying goal with 6.6 seconds left in regulation followed by the shootout winner Tuesday against the Maple Leafs.
Injury Report: Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby has been skating but remains out indefinitely while recovering from a neck injury and concussion-like symptoms. He's joined on injured reserve by defensemen Robert Bortuzzo (concussion-like symptoms) and Simon Despres (lower body) and forward Jordan Staal (sprained MCL). Forward Arron Asham is out indefinitely with a concussion. … Boston forward Nathan Horton (concussion) has missed the last three games, but Julien said he is showing signs of improvement and could start working out soon.
Stat Pack: Cal O'Reilly, claimed off waivers by the Penguins on Wednesday, had 2 goals and 6 points in 27 games this season with the Coyotes and Predators. … The Bruins took 22 shots in the first period alone Thursday, the second time this season they've recorded that many shots in a period.
Puck Drop: Julien spoke after Boston's loss to Carolina about the need to play with more urgency, comments that were echoed by Thornton.
"I don't think we had everyone going again," he said. "Seems to be the same old story -- we're not that good that we can come out and go through the motions and expect to be successful. When we were on top of our game, it's because everyone was working and that's not happening right now."