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Bruins Host Penguins In Top Of Table Clash

Two of the NHL's best goaltenders will be on show Monday.

Two of the NHL’s best goaltenders will be on show Monday as Pittsburgh visits Boston.

In a matchup between the Eastern Conference’s two best teams, the Boston Bruins will host the Pittsburgh Penguins in what is easily the crown jewel of the Monday’s NHL schedule.

The puck is due to drop at 7:00 p.m. ET at TD Garden in Boston.

The fact that Boston (15-6-2, 32pts) and Pittsburgh (15-9-0, 30pts) sit atop the conference standings a little more than a quarter of the way through the season comes as a surprise to nobody. The two teams were joint favorites to win the Eastern Conference when the season started and ranked second (Pittsburgh) and third (Boston) to win the Stanley Cup behind the Chicago Blackhawks. Both remain amongst the favorites to lift the Stanley Cup.

Pittsburgh earned a 3-2 victory when the two sides met in the Steel City earlier this season, so Boston will have extra incentive to win this middle game of a three-game head-to-head series this season.

The Bruins picked up a 3-2 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes in their last outing on Saturday, with David Krejci scoring the winner at 1:28 of the extra frame. The win was Boston’s seventh in nine games, a streak that has sent Claude Julien’s side to the summit of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins currently top the Metropolitan Division and are right on the heels of the Bruins in the conference standings. After four losses in five games, the team recorded a 3-1-0 record this past week, with the one loss coming on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs jumped out to a 3-0 lead in that game before James Neal scored a brace of third period goals. The Penguins ultimately came up short to lose the game 3-2. A win over Boston would put the team back on track in a big way.

If the Penguins were to take two points from Monday’s game in Boston, they would hurdle the Bruins into first place in the conference and, perhaps more importantly, earn an unbeatable 2-0 head-to-head advantage in the series, something that could prove vital later down the line.

The game itself will see a mouthwatering showdown between Pittsburgh’s prolific offense and Boston’s stingy defense.

The Penguins average 2.8 goals per game (8th) and have scored on 22.4 percent of power plays (2nd). Along the way, Sidney Crosby has recorded a NHL-leading 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) while Evgeni Malkin is tied with Joe Thornton for a NHL-best 12 assists. Chris Kunitz has thrown 11 goals and 10 assists into the mix for good measure.

Pittsburgh has scored three or more goals in 16 of 24 games, winning each contest in which they tally a trio or more. But Boston’s defense isn’t about to shirk away.

This season, the Bruins have conceded one goal or less in 10 of 23 games. Unsurprisingly, the side hasn’t lost any of those contests. In fact, the Bruins have allowed three or more goals in just seven games, all losses. The formula is simple; if Boston allows two or less, it wins.

Part of the Bruins’ defensive success comes down to netminder Tuukka Rask. Finland’s potential No. 1 at next year’s Winter Olympics, Rask has a goals against average of just 1.62, good enough for third in the NHL. His 12-5-2 record has kept backup Chad Johnson out of the lineup more often than not this season. When Rask is in goal, the Bruins have a very good chance at winning.

Pittsburgh has a goaltender of its own to lean on. After a dismal postseason, Marc-Andre Fleury has rebounded in style. The No.1 overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft has tallied a 13-7-0 record this season, allowing just 1.95 goals a game (5th in the NHL). He also scored the win when the Penguins defeated the Bruins on October 30, saving 21 of 23 shots.

Like Rask, Fleury has been a big part of a stingy defense. The Penguins allow 2.3 goals per game (9th) and have parried 87.1 percent of penalty kill situations, second best in the league. They may be renowned for their offense, but the Penguins can shut teams down too.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that winger Beau Bennett may be missing from the Pittsburgh lineup for the immediate future. Coach Dan Bylsma described his expected absence (due to an unspecified injury) as “longer than days” after Bennett missed Saturday’s game in Montreal.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins odds for 11/25/2013

Boston (-121) opened as the favorite over Pittsburgh (+110) on the moneyline but bettors may want to consider recent history before they back the Bruins.

While the Bruins did sweep the Penguins from the Eastern Conference finals last June, the Penguins have been dominant in the regular season head-to-head of late, taking nine of the last 10 meetings between the sides, including a matchup in Pittsburgh earlier this season.

Pittsburgh (-275) is expected to cover the spread.

The over/under sits at 5 goals for this game. The under was favored on opening but most sportsbooks now favor the over, despite both team’s stellar defensive record.

The total has gone under in six of the last eight games between the two sides, as well as eight of Pittsburgh’s last nine visits to Bean Town.

All odds supplied by Bovada.

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