By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

WILMINGTON – Well, at least the Bruins won’t have to face the proverbial ‘wounded animal’ Wednesday night when they visit Pittsburgh. The Penguins had lost three in a row before they beat the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.

So now there’s one less bit of motivation that Sidney Crosby and his flock have at their backs for the upcoming rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals. That doesn’t mean Pittsburgh won’t be out for some measure of revenge against the team that swept them one round shy of the Stanley Cup finals last June.

“You know it happened a while ago. At the same, their goal was to win the Stanley Cup that year and we ended that,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said Monday before departing with his teammates for the Steel City. “So obviously they want to prove something. … I’m sure they’re going to be coming out flying, especially in their home rink. Hopefully we can match that.”

The Bruins are in a precarious position after letting the New Jersey Devils steal two points in the Garden Saturday night. So now they’re in a position where they have to play in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and then come back to Boston to face Anaheim Thursday. Anything less than the Bruins’ best effort and that loss to the Devils could snowball into a losing streak that could cost Boston important ground in the Atlantic Division.

Adversity has come to the Bruins in more forms than just the schedule. Just when Loui Eriksson was starting to fit in, he goes out with a concussion. Now that the Bruins’ schedule has graduated to the varsity level in terms of quality of opponent, they’re going to have to get by without one of their best players.

So now it’s up to the Bruins to kick off this difficult stretch by showing the Penguins that last season wasn’t a fluke. Sure, there’s a chance Crosby or Evgeni Malkin will score a goal (something they failed to do in those four games last June). But the Bruins can counter with a rejuvenated Jarome Iginla, who downplayed his Pittsburgh return Monday, and the rest of a team that still fancies itself the cream of the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh, of course, is still overflowing with high-price, Olympic-quality talent.

The new NHL alignment means that this game isn’t going to affect playoff positioning. And nothing short of another matchup in the Stanley Cup semifinals can match the intensity of last season. Still the Bruins have to use this early-season test to determine how well they match up against a team that could be in their way again come June.



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