Haggerty: Bruins once again come up short vs. Penguins

Haggerty: Bruins once again come up short vs. Penguins
March 18, 2013, 12:00 am
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PITTSBURGH – For now it’s time for the battered and bruised Boston Bruins to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a quick stick salute, and then move on to the next challenge.

The NHL schedule makers handed Boston two different chances to overtake the Penguins for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference this week with a pair of games against Sid and the Gang at the CONSOL Energy Center.

In both instances the Bruins finished a day late and one goal short with the second defeat ending with a tightly-played 2-1 loss on Sunday afternoon. Granted there were clearly extenuating circumstances for the Black and Gold hockey club. Both times Boston rolled into Pittsburgh facing the Penguins on the second day of back-to-back games, and the weekend tilt was the third game in four days for a busy Bruins team bracing for a barnstorming trip through Canada this week.

So Claude Julien didn’t find much at fault with a Bruins club that simply came up a Marchand nose length short in a postseason-style game against a Pittsburgh team that’s been the class of the East all season. Maybe if they decreed that the winner would receive Calgary Flames winger Jarome Iginla in trade then things would have gone differently.

Then again, maybe not.

“Today to me was like a typical playoff game where I thought we played well and we played hard . . . so did they,” said Julien. “It was a tight game that ended up in a 2-1 hockey game where everybody had a chance to win.

“The thing we have to be careful of here is that I’m not disappointed in our effort. It was our third game in four nights and I thought we competed hard. I thought we had a chance to win. We did all the things right, but we couldn’t get that goal. You get those games and you get those nights.”

The Tuesday night loss was both more painful and a little more predictable for the Black and Gold. The Penguins had been waiting in Pittsburgh for a Bruins team that didn’t get in until 2:30 a.m. after taking down the Senators in a shootout staring Kaspars Daugavins. Then the Bruins proceeded to blow that one in a third period meltdown that the team hopes is their last one of the season.

This time around both teams won their games on Saturday, and were winding up a stretch of three games in four days.

Sure the Bruins missed Chris Kelly in both tilts with a leg injury that’s turned the team into a top heavy unit reliant on their top six forwards. Tyler Seguin scored one goal and nearly finished off another one on a wraparound in the third period that would have likely sent the game into overtime – and clearly lived up to his end of the bargain.

But the other five forwards from the top two B’s lines were shut out despite 10 shots on goal from Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and David Krejci before the Czech center went down in the final seven minutes of the third period with a right knee injury.

The Bruins out-shot the Penguins by a 32-18 margin and held a 12-3 advantage over the final 20 minutes, but never found a way to push things to the extra session.

“The chances were there. Maybe we could have had a little more traffic in front of [Tomas] Vokoun,” admitted Patrice Bergeron. “It was back-and-forth. There were some shifts where we spent a lot of time in their zone. The goal that we scored was because of the sustained pressure, and because of the fore-check we were able to put on.

“But it was more back-and-forth. We couldn’t get that extra goal to at least get the game to overtime.”

That’s what truly elite teams are doing: turning one goal losses into overtime and shootout defeats where at least a point is scrounged up.

So either the Bruins were one play short of potentially winning the game, or the Penguins made the extra play to be highly deserving of the two points. Either way the Bruins now know that they’re a little short of considering themselves the best team the East has to offer. They’re looking up at both the Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens in the conference, and they’re 1-3 in four games against the two Eastern contenders this season.

That exalted playoff pole position is the rarified mantle for a Penguins team that continues to lead the Eastern Conference with 44 points.

Crosby scored one of Pittsburgh’s two goals, and took care of business against the Black and Gold on Sunday despite missing partner Evgeni Malkin for both games. Even more impressively they did it without having Norris trophy favorite Kris Letang for the final two periods of Sunday’s game with a lower body injury.

Granted the Bruins still have a game in hand against Montreal and three against Pittsburgh, but that was little solace to a proud Bruins team that continues through a March death march of 17 games in 31 days.

“We knew we were battling to come back and sometimes that makes you dig a little deeper,” said Marchand, who looked tired and off his game with zero shots on goal in 19:09 of ice time. “But we couldn’t come through.”

The Bruins will get one more chance a month from now when they finally host the Penguins in their own barn on April 19. After that Eastern Conference clash there will only be four games left on the schedule for the rest of Boston’s regular season, and they’ll be fixing to make their team statements prior to a postseason that promises to be combative.

They’ll also be looking to finally beat the Penguins at least once this season after failing twice this week in Stanley Cup playoff-style hockey games that could have very easily landed in the ‘W’ column. Close but no cigar does very little when it comes to gathering points and yielding results at this point in the season for the B’s, and they went 0-for-2 in their chances against the mighty Penguins.