Mighty Bruins visit struggling Coyotes

At the end of October, the Bruins did not appear to look like a team that was going to have a chance to defend its Stanley Cup championship.

Two months later and Boston comes out of the Christmas break as one of the hottest teams in the league.

The Bruins, winners in 20 of their last 23 games, visit the Phoenix Coyotes this evening looking for a seventh straight victory. Their current six-game run comes on the heels of a 2-0 loss to the Panthers on Dec. 8, but they have won half of their games since by way of a shutout.

That includes some revenge over Florida on Friday, an 8-0 rout of the visiting Panthers. Tuukka Rask made 30 saves to record his second straight shutout and Brad Marchand logged his first career hat trick as part of a career-high five- point night.

Patrice Bergeron chipped in with a goal and a pair of assists for the Bruins, who began the season 3-7-0 but now lead the Northeast Division with 47 points.

"It was getting a little scary there the first 10 games or so," said Marchand. "After that, we really kind of turned it around and found our stride. Everyone's playing at the same level they played last year, but the tough thing to do is keep it going all year."

Boston begins a three-game road trip tonight in Phoenix, taking on a Coyotes club that has lost two straight and six of its past nine. The 'Yotes came out of the break on Monday and lost a 4-3 decision to the Kings.

Raffi Torres scored a pair of goals and Daymond Langkow added the third tally for the Coyotes, who played a third straight game without goaltender Mike Smith due to a lower-body injury. Boyd Gordon (lower body) and Martin Hanzal (facial laceration) also sat out with injuries that have them day-to-day.

Without Smith, Jason LaBarbara got the start but allowed four goals on 29 shots. Curtis McElhinney stopped all six shots he faced in relief after coming in at 7:06 of the third.

"At the end of the day, we have to tighten it up defensively," said Torres. "I thought we were out there working hard and gave ourselves some opportunities, but ultimately we came up short."

The Coyotes and Bruins are meeting for the first time since splitting a two- game series in the Czech Republic to kick off the 2010-11 season. Phoenix is 5-2-0 with a tie in the past eight encounters overall.