The Penguins buried the ghost of playoffs past on Wednesday at CONSOL Energy Center, beating the Boston Bruins 3-2 in the first meeting between the teams since the Bruins swept Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Final.
Brandon Sutter gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead just over midway through the third period and Jussi Jokinen scored what would prove to be the game-winner with two minutes left, as former Pen Jarome Iginla scored to put the Bruins within one 19 seconds later. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made a save reminiscent of the one he made in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final save in the final seconds to preserve the victory.
Yes, Pittsburgh's postseason ended months ago. We can say that this was just another regular-season game for the Penguins, one of 82, and all that matters is getting the two points – which they did.
And it is, in a sense. But when you face a team that eliminated you for the first time – especially one that held the NHL's top offense to two goals in four games in that series – there’s always going to be extra motivation. And the Pens had that tonight in a game that felt playoff-like in its intensity and atmosphere, as they came out and dominated the first two periods – not allowing the Bruins to have any extended zone time and keeping possession for the majority of the time.
Things got a little hairy in the third period as the Bruins started getting to their game, but the Pens stuck with it and were rewarded – something that didn’t happen for them in the playoffs. So to get this one was huge for them.
“With the way things ended last year we knew what kind of team we were playing,” Sutter said. “They’re a very good defensive team. That’s a big building block for us. We stuck with our game and played just as well defensively. It’s big. Our guys played well.”
Chris Kunitz also scored for the Pens. Fleury made 21 saves for his ninth win in 11 starts.
SUTTER BIG AGAINST B’S
We’d seen this before from Brandon Sutter. Against this same team. In this very arena.
On March 12 of last season, he was the hero against Boston as he scored twice in the third period to help the Penguins rally from a 2-0 deficit and beat the Bruins 3-2. Both goals came on similar sequences – he had an open shooting lane on the same side of the ice and put the puck into the back of the net, far side past goalie Anton Khudobin.
Then during the playoffs in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, Sutter caught a pass in stride, carried into the right side of the zone with speed and wired a wrister into the opposite corner past goalie Tuukka Rask.
Tonight, he scored his first goal of the season on a play that was virtually identical. He received a pass (from Pascal Dupuis) in stride, again, carried into the right side of zone with speed, again, and just absolutely sniped a wrister top shelf, far side past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. Again.
“There’s already been a few comments about that,” Sutter joked when asked if his goal tonight was the same as that one. “It was pretty close. A similar play; I just looked up for an opening and it worked out.”
Sutter has been exceptional away from the puck this season, especially defensively. He has been as responsible as ever, an integral part of the penalty kill and has dominated on faceoffs. But when it came to
the puck, he wasn't having any luck. So to be rewarded with his first one tonight, especially in the form of a big third-period goal against the team that eliminated the Pens from the playoffs, certainly felt good.
“It’s nice to get that monkey off my back and get that first one,” Sutter said. “It’s a good one for us.”
Pascal Dupuis likes to have as much fun as the next guy, constantly joking and laughing and pranking his teammates. He loves coming to the rink every day and it shows. But when it comes to hockey games, he’s all business – to the point where he’ll pull out his own tooth on the bench to stay in the game after catching a stick in the mouth from teammate Kris Letang on the backcheck.
As Dupuis demonstrated after the game, “These three were caved in the roof of my mouth and this one was too loose, so I pulled it out. I tried a second one, too, but it's glued there. ... I'll just pull this one out and try to put it back in later tonight. Myself."
His linemate Sidney Crosby was sitting next to him as Dupuis temporarily assumed the role of dentist, and said he was
"It was part of a bridge, so I don't think it hurt as much. But I saw a steel rod in his tooth when it came out, so that's not something you see every day," Crosby said with a grin. "So it was kind of funny, kind of gross. But it's not something that you see too often."
It may have been a four-tooth bridge, but still – isn’t that painful?!
“A little bit,” Dupuis shrugged. “You are in the game, you want to stay on the bench and you want to go back next shift and help your team win. Dental work on the bench.”
It's a good thing Dupuis literally took matters into his own hands, as he isn’t someone the Pens want to lose – especially the way he played Wednesday night. He said before the game he’d be playing with a chip on his shoulder after what happened in the spring, and he backed up his words. Dupuis left everything on the ice, refusing to lose a battle and outworking his opponents in every situation.
He made a number of key defensive plays, including blocking a couple of shots in the final seconds of the game to keep the Bruins from tying. In addition to all of that, Dupuis assisted on Sutter’s goal with a beautiful no-look pass he tipped over using one hand. It’s not necessarily the way he drew it up, but it worked out. “Obviously it doesn't always happen the way you plan it, but this one ended up right on his stick,” Dupuis said.
Looking at the notes I took during the game, nearly everything I wrote was about Evgeni Malkin. An example: “GENO HAS BEEN ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE.”
It’s true. He had the kind of game we expect from a player of his stature. He created a number of fantastic scoring chances for himself, and when I say scoring chances, I mean he was all alone going to the net and simply got robbed by Tuukka Rask. Malkin also created a lot for his linemates Jokinen and Jayson Megna, who got a look on the right wing in his third career NHL game.
“That was Evgeni's best game of the year,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He was dominant.
“He stripped pucks. Got great chances. Breakaways. Was great down low. Set up Jayson Megna and Jussi about four or five times. He was physical in the game as well. I thought he kept his cool as well. They came after him a couple times. He was real focused and played the game. I was looking for him to break through on one or two chances.”
Malkin wasn’t able to get one tonight, but if he keeps playing the same way, his return to the goal column looks inevitable.