Penguins-Bruins on NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry at TD Garden.
A four-point game by any standard with both teams in the two wildcard slots — 70-68 points, advantage Black and Gold. But the ‘Pens having two games in hand.
Unless any combination of Ottawa/Carolina/New Jersey/Montreal goes on a tear, these two may be joined at the wildcard hip into the last weekend of the season.
While Boston may have all eyes of one of the first three slots in the Atlantic Division, Mike Sullivan’s roster might be the better bet to gain such in the Metropolitan. Since being named Pittsburgh’s bench boss on December 12, the Penguins went 2-5-1 into New Year’s Day. Since then a solid 11-4-3 in their last 18 with all four losses to Cup-contending teams.
For Boston, that one glaring stat plaguing them all season: 12-15-3 on home ice, by far the NHL’s worst among any remotely possible playoff contenders. Only San Jose comes close at 11-12-3.
With 10 games left at TD Garden, kiss any respectable home record goodbye?
“Let’s talk about that after the Pittsburgh game,” Claude Julien said about the woeful home slate after Monday’s meltdown loss to Columbus. “If it’s the same thing I’ll be more than happy to answer that. Hopefully by the next game against Pittsburgh we’ll be able to answer that hopefully in a positive way.”
At 6-0-1 in their last seven meetings, Boston had owned the Penguins, not to mention outscoring them, 9-2, in the two tilts this season. Make that 7-0-1 after Boston’s convincing 5-1 win.
“We talked about the things we’re not doing at home that we do on the road and those kinds of things,” Julien said after. “We need a better, I guess, approach, and to find details. I think there was a lot of focus on that.”
Here’s what we learned.
Historic penalty-shot goal
With Pittsburgh outshooting the Bruins, 11-6, Derrick Pouliot hauled down David Pastrnak on a clean break-in on Marc-Andre Fleury at 16:00 of the first period. It was Boston’s third penalty shot of the year, having made all three.
Pastrnak did not disappoint, finding the five-hole for the early 1-0 lead with his seventh goal of the season. It marked the first time in team history that Boston had three penalty-shot goals in one season while establishing the 19-year-old as the youngest Bruin to score such a goal.
Pastrnak gets second gift-wrapped goal
At 1:42 of the second period, Penguins’ defenseman Olli Matta gaffed on an outlet pass and onto the stick of Pastrnak to Fleury’s right. Pastrnak pulled Fleury before depositing a soft backhander for the 2-0 lead.
“To me,” said Julien about Pastrnak, “tonight he was the guy for all three periods that I thought skated really well for us.”
No lead is safe this season
Just after Pastrnak’s second unassisted goal, Oskar Sundqvist fired a shot on Rask that caromed off Tom Kuhnhacki’s skate past Rask. The referee ruled it a good goal, cutting the lead in half at 4:07.
Boston had lost seven games this season when leading by two goals.
Third-period flood gates opened
“Once we loosened up a little bit,” Julien said, “I thought, again, in the third period we were much better.”
Jimmy Hayes put Boston up, 3-1, at 10:34 of the final period when he and Ryan Spooner broke in 2 on 1 with Hayes deflecting the perfect pass past Fleury. It was Hayes’ 13th of the season with Adam McQuaid also assisting.
Then at 14:28, Dennis Seidenberg sent a seeing-eye pass to a streaking Landon Ferraro, who took Fleury to the cleaners on a top-shelf laser for a 4-1 advantage.
Brad Marchand rolled a crease rebound past Fleury for the 5-1 final with Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug assisting.
Rask up to task
With an obscure and league-leading GAA in home games, Claude Julien leaned on Tuukka Rask to deliver Wednesday night. A lifetime mark vs. Pittsburgh of 7-5-1 and a 2.16 GAA, Rask stood tall in the first period when the Penguins pelted him with 13 shots; ditto in the second, stopping 14 of 15. Then 14 in the third-period shutout to complete the 41-save evening.
In all, Boston was outshot each period.
“We took their rebound chances away,” Rask said after one of his best outings at home all season. “And we knew they were going to look for those backdoor plays a lot. We took care of those, and you know it resulted as a pretty good defensive effort.
“We wanted to improve our home record and stop giving up a lot of goals in general. You know we still gave up a lot of shots, but I thought it was a great defensive effort, and we battled hard, and kept the goals-against down and got the win.”
Wednesday night was Loui Eriksson’s 60th game of the season, making him not only the sole Bruin to play in all his team’s games, but also the only player in the NHL to appear in all of its team’s games.
With the win, the Bruins jumped back among the top three in their division, tied for second with Tampa Bay.
“We still had our moments,” Adam McQuaid said about the effort on home ice, “and Tuukka was big for us at times, but overall I think it was a better effort.”