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Coyotes-Bruins Preview

By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO

STATS Writer

(AP) -- The Boston Bruins are headed for a third division title in four years, and now they have a chance to move atop the Eastern Conference.

Matching their longest winning streak in over two years would be enough.

The Bruins go for a seventh straight victory Thursday night, when they face the surging Phoenix Coyotes for the first of two meetings in 10 days.

Boston (43-17-5) comfortably leads the Atlantic Division by 13 points on second-place Toronto with 17 games left. However, the Bruins are still vying for the most points in the conference, trailing idle Pittsburgh by one.

Overtaking the Penguins would require Boston to win a seventh straight game for the first time since Dec. 10-28, 2011.

The Bruins, 9-1-2 in their last 12, got closer to matching that mark by scoring three second-period goals in a 4-1 win at Montreal.

Boston's recent winning streak has been spurred by impressive scoring depth, as Patrice Bergeron, Jarome Iginla, David Krejci and Carl Soderberg lead the team with six points. Additionally, Iginla, Krejci, Soderberg and Gregory Campbell have a team-high three goals over the last six games.

It's unclear if Tuukka Rask will be back in net after making 35 saves against the Canadiens. He's won four straight games behind a 1.71 goals-against average.

"He's been great all year," forward Brad Marchand said. "He's the guy we look to be big for us. We didn't worry about anything that's happened in the past. It's more about how we've been playing lately. We focused on how we have to play."

Rask had 32 saves in a 5-2 loss to the Coyotes in the latest matchup at TD Garden on Oct. 9, 2010.

Like Rask, backup Chad Johnson enters this meeting on a hot stretch, going 7-0-1 with a 2.13 GAA in nine games - eight starts.

The Coyotes (31-24-11) are one point behind Dallas for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference but could overtake the idle Stars with a win.

Doing so would mean concluding this four-game road trip with a third straight victory, which would be their first such streak since Oct. 10-13.

Another strong performance from Radim Vrbata could be just what the Coyotes need. The right wing has four goals over the past four games, matching his total from the previous 25.

"When the puck is finding the back of the net for him, it just seems like he's got that extra step," coach Dave Tippett said.

That seemed to be the case Tuesday, when Vrbata found the net again while assisting on tallies by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mike Ribeiro in a 3-1 win at Florida.

"You score that one and you start feeling good about yourself," Vrbata said. "You get a couple of lucky bounces."

Vrbata had two goals in the Coyotes last visit to Boston.

Keith Yandle had an assist in that visit to his hometown. The defenseman enters this one with 10 points in 10 games, including five during a four-game points streak.

The Coyotes and Bruins conclude their season series in Phoenix on March 22.

Updated March 13, 2014

126 © 2014 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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