PITTSBURGH — Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen scored in a 6:58 span in the third period and the Pittsburgh Penguins held on for a 3-2 victory over the Bruins on Wednesday night.
Chris Kunitz also scored for the Penguins, who gained a small measure of revenge on the Bruins after Boston swept them out of the playoffs last spring.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 21 shots for Pittsburgh, including a sliding save on David Krejci just before the final horn. Sidney Crosby picked up an assist to push his points total to an NHL-high 21.
Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla scored for Boston. Tuukka Rask finished with 28 saves, but couldn’t stop the Bruins from dropping a road game for the first time this season.
The meeting between the teams was the first since Boston’s four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference finals, when the Bruins suffocated the NHL’s highest scoring team into submission. The Penguins scored only twice in nearly 14 periods of hockey, undone by Boston’s defense and a near flawless performance by Rask, who stopped 134 of 136 shots in the series.
Nearly five months later, little has changed. The new season is barely four weeks old yet the intensity level appeared more appropriate for May.
Kunitz gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the second period when he collected a shot from teammate Kris Letang with his chest then backhanded by Rask with his back to the net. The power-play goal was the fifth given up by the Bruins in their last seven penalty kills.
Bergeron tied it 1:05 into the third period with a tricky deflection between his legs over Fleury’s shoulder.
Then things got interesting. Sutter took a pass from Pascal Dupuis and raced in on Rask, wristing a shot over the goalie’s shoulder for his first regular-season goal since April. Jokinen followed with 3:02 remaining when he forced a turnover high in Boston’s zone andbroke in on Rask, whisking the puck past Rask’s stick for his sixth goal.
The Penguins ended up needing the cushion.
Iginla’s slap shot from the point zipped by Fleury with 1:43 left and Boston spent the final 90 seconds buzzing the Pittsburgh net but failed to find the equalizer.
The injury riddled Penguins have tweaked their formula a bit since June, trying to play a bit more responsibly on their end of the ice while still relying on Crosby and Malkin to carry the offense. It’s led to a typically strong start, one buoyed by impressive play from Fleury. The goalie entered the night with a 1.79 goals-against average through 10 games, the best start of his career.
Boston’s roster underwent a slightly more aggressive overhaul, including the signing of Iginla. He spent two months with the Penguins last spring in search of his first Stanley Cup title after more than 15 years in Calgary. He produced five goals and six assists in 13 regular-season games with Pittsburgh and had four more goals in the playoffs but disappeared against the Bruins, as did the rest of the Penguins.
Iginla’s return barely caused a stir. There was no video tribute or hand from the crowd. Only when he was knocked to the ice by Malkin and Kris Letang to end the first period — and again dropped by Malkin in the second — did a faint level of disapproval arise.
NOTES: Krejci’s points streak ended at seven ... The Penguins wore special purple jerseys during warmups. The jerseys will be signed and then auctioned off to raise money for the Mario Lemieux Foundation as part of “Hockey Fights Cancer” campaign ... The Bruins host Anaheim on Thursday night. The Penguins are off until Friday night, when Columbus visits ... The Penguins scratched injured D Rob Scuderi and injured Fs Chuck Kobasew and Matt D’Agostini ... F Loui Eriksson and D Matt Bartkowski were scratched by the Bruins.
Talking points from CSNNE.com Bruins insider Joe Haggerty:
GOLD STAR: Marc-Andre Fleury continues a nice bounce-back with the Penguins while making 21 saves on the Bruins, and doing exactly what was needed to get the Pens their second straight victory. His save on a David Krejci one-timer at the very end of the third period was as clutch as it gets after Milan Lucic set things up with a nifty cross-ice pass. Things had the chance to get really ugly in Pittsburgh when Tomas Vokoun went down with the blood clot complications, but the Flower has stepped up to be the final piece. The biggest question is whether or not MAF will get the job done in the playoffs this spring, but for now he’s doing it right as he improved his record to 9-2-0 on the season.
BLACK EYE: Tough night for Johnny Boychuk, who finished with a minus-2 and made an ill-advised pass to Jordan Caron in the defensive zone that was plucked away by Jussi Jokinen. The Finnish B’s killer walked right in and snapped a wrist shot over Tuukka Rask’s blocker side shoulder to make it a 3-1 lead for the Penguins, and eventually serve as the winning goal for Pittsburgh. Boychuk also finished with a shot on net or a blocked shot in a largely quiet night for him, and a mixed bag evening for the B’s defensemen corps in general.
TURNING POINT: With the Bruins and Penguins battling each other to a two-goal tie in the third period, it was the first period power play score for Pittsburgh that proved to be the difference-maker. It arrived on a questionable interference call on Milan Lucic in a pretty intense, physical game, and that set up a nice little man-advantage play with the Penguins where Kris Letang redirected a puck off Chris Kunitz camped in front. The puck hit Kunitz in the chest before dropping it to his skates, and the Pittsburgh forward quickly swept it between Rask’s pads.
HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron was magnificent in defeat with two points (a goal and an assist), a team-high eight generated shot attempts and 13-of-20 face-off wins as the most dominant player on the ice for either team. It was a Bergeron clean win in the face-off dot over Sidney Crosby in the offensive zone that set up Jarome Iginla’s third period goal, and gave the Bruins hope that they might just be able to push things to overtime with a lucky bounce or two. Those bounced didn’t happen, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on Bergeron’s part.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 – the number of consecutive regular season wins for the Penguins over the Bruins dating to the 2011-12 regular season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “More than anything else we didn’t play to our identity. We didn’t play a heavy game tonight for two periods, at least. When we did in the third it made a difference, but we need to play an entire game like we did in the third.” – Bruins coach Claude Julien, not happy with the team’s battle level against a Penguins team that seemed to want it more.