Bruins penalty-kill unit on top of its game vs. Jets

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Bruins penalty-kill unit on top of its game vs. Jets

BOSTON -- Certain players and teams lost aspects of their game during the lockout. The Boston Bruins are no exception to that.

But now with a 2-0 start to the shortened season, the Bruins still have one thing they know they never lost: their identity.

For a refresher course, prior to the lockout, the Bruins were a strong defensive team, committed to keeping the shots to the outside, allowing their goaltender to see those shots cleanly. And with that solid defense came offensive opportunities.

Through two games, the Bruins still play with that identity. And that defense-first style has translated into a penalty kill unit that's aggressive and instinctive, quick to prevent the opposition's power play to set up shop and get the shots or passes through the slot that they yearn.

Forget about the power play. If you can keep the other team from scoring on their man-advantages, and carry that defensive identity into even-strength play, you can win in this league. Just ask the core group of this Bruins team who hoisted the Stanley Cup back in 2011.

That said, the Bruins don't get a banner raised for opening this season 2-0. But they are showing that they're in a good place, especially if their penalty-kill unit plays like it did on Monday afternoon, in a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

"That's what made the difference today," said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the win. "And I thought our penalty kill has been good the first two games. A 5-on-3 last game against the Rangers, and then two 4-on-3's today. Especially in overtime, it was a tough call on Zdeno Chara, obviously, and to have to kill that to finish the game, our guys did a great job, the two D's that were out there, but also Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly were switching over up front. They were breaking up a lot of plays once they got over the blue. So, again, that's probably a good reason why we're sitting here today with a win."

The Bruins killed off all four Jets power plays, with two coming at crucial points in the game.

Johnny Boychuk was called for high-sticking with 1:11 left to play in regulation with the game tied at 1-1. That resulted in the Bruins having to be down 4-on-3 for the first 49 seconds in overtime (the overtime period is 4-on-4 at even strength).

The B's killed that off, but then Zdeno Chara was called for a holding penalty with 1:28 left in overtime. It was a questionable call for sure, as Chara chased Blake Wheeler down the right side of the ice. Wheeler attempted to cut hard inside to the net with the puck, and Chara put a body on him. Wheeler tripped and went flying into the net, and the refs gave the Jets a 4-on-3 power play for the rest of the game.

But the Bruins also killed that one off, and then won the game in a shootout.

"It's important that we do the job on the PK, especially in overtime like that," said Patrice Bergeron. "It happened twice, and we found a way. So give credit to everyone that was on the ice, but also Tuukka Rask. He made some great saves for us."

The Bruins also referenced the chewed up ice at the end of the game, as being a reason for the penalty-kill success in overtime. But through the first two games, it's clear that their success stems from more than just a slower surface.

"I think we were pretty aggressive right away, right off the bat," said Bergeron. "We didn't give them time to set up, and I don't think they got the plays they wanted because we were so aggressive.

"I think we all know where to be. We communicate a lot on the ice. Also, coach does a great job to make it more, I guess, black and white. Then it's about instincts and just making sure you do the right plays."

It's their identity.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.