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Penguins and Bruins continue ‘playoff preview’ Tuesday

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The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins aren’t in the playoffs yet, but they are offering a preview of postseason play during their two-game set that concludes Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins (32-14-3, 67 points) moved into first place in the East Division with a 1-0 win Sunday, seven points ahead of the Bruins (27-14-6, 60 points), who sit in the fourth and final playoff spot in the division.

The two-game set could be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup, and the teams played like it — tight, smart, with strong defense and good goaltending.

That means not cheating defensively despite both clubs having explosive offensive players.

“Obviously, with Boston, they have some really skilled players who like to make plays off the rush,” said Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who called Sunday’s contest a “benchmark game.”

“Our forwards did a great job of tracking back and picking up sticks.”

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan would like to see a repeat of that style.

“As I say to the guys all the time, it’s hard to score your way to success in this league,” Sullivan said. “We certainly don’t want to take the sticks out of our players’ hands, but you’ve got to be hard to play against. I thought (Sunday) was one of our more complete games.

“I think it’s good for our team to get into these types of games.”

Even Boston goaltender Jeremy Swayman, a rookie who started Sunday and gave up the lone goal, recognized the playoff atmosphere.

“Those are crucial points and … that was a tight game all the way through, and it’s what we can expect in a couple weeks (in the playoffs).”

Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said Pittsburgh’s staunch defense of the area around its net was effective, and he challenged his players to push past that.

“They kept us to the outside,” Cassidy said. “We had certainly some guys that are willing to go (inside), and some guys that are refusing to work to the inside and attack the net with the puck. As a result … limited chances.

“It falls on a lot of those players to work a lot harder to attack the net.”

The teams’ top lines could arguably be among the best in the NHL this season.

Pittsburgh’s top unit, Sidney Crosby centering Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, has produced 61 goals — 20 each by Rust and Crosby, and Guentzel’s 21st that was the only goal Sunday.

Boston’s top line of Patrice Bergeron (18 goals) centering Brad Marchand (25) and David Pastrnak (18) also has combined for 61 goals but isn’t necessarily at top form.

Bergeron returned Sunday after missing a game because of injury and has two goals in his past eight games. Leading scorer Marchand has been steady, with six goals in the past seven games, but Pastrnak has just two goals in 13 games.

“We’re all watching the same thing,” Cassidy said of Pastrnak. “He’s not finishing like he has in the past. Some of it is execution.

“He looks like he’s fumbling pucks much more than he ever has. … Sometimes it’s a little bit of confidence for him. Sometimes it could be fatigue in certain situations. Sometimes it’s a bit of luck. The puck’s bouncing on you, and you have those stretches.

“Obviously, we’re going to stick with him. We know what type of player he can be when he gets hot.”

–Field Level Media

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