What we learned: Relentless Bruins fall short in comeback bid
The Bruins had a relentless attack featuring high-octane puck pursuit and numerous quality scoring chances in Pittsburgh Friday night. Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith was up to the task.
The Penguins, for that matter, had an opportunistic performance highlighted by DeSmith’s career-high 48 saves and timely momentum-shifting goals in front of their home crowd at PPG Paints Arena.
Here is what we learned as the Bruins couldn’t get one last clutch moment in their 5-3 loss that snapped a modest three-game winning streak.
The Penguins found leaks in the Bruins defensive coverage
Fun fact: Phil Kessel now has a seven-game point streak against the Bruins (5G-4A). pic.twitter.com/PokZaQ1GeU
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 15, 2018
Give an offensively talented team like the Penguins time and space and they’ll capitalize. The Bruins D found that out the hard way.
Only one of their goals came from one of their usual suspects in Phil Kessel. Evgeni Malkin’s nifty slap pass with no one around him provided Kessel with even more space to drive and bury his 13th goal of the season 1:56 into the second period.
The previous period, Derek Grant also had plenty of time to drive to beat Jaroslav Halak after John Moore tried to assist Charlie McAvoy in a board battle with Matt Cullen. The Bruins goaltender had no chance and that led to the game’s opening goal toward the end of the first.
McAvoy also found himself on the wrong end of a 2-on-1 down the other end after he failed to keep the puck in the attacking end during the Bruins’ second power play of the night. The former Boston University standout jumped back into the play in the defensive end but confusion with Torey Krug led to Zach Aston-Reese’s first of two goals of the night.
“I’m trying to put the puck down and I’m trying to put the puck along the wall,” McAvoy told reporters postgame about the events that led to Aston-Resse’s shorthanded tally. “I’m trying to get back [on D] and it turns out that it’s a 2-on-1, so I got to be better and I got to make a stronger play.”
The Bruins weren’t playing poorly by any means. But questionable decisions on the back-end forced them to play from behind. Even with their strong offensive pursuit, playing from behind is always a tall hill to climb, especially on the road.
Boston’s third-period comeback bid fell short
The string of unlikely goal-scorers continues for the Bruins as this time its Chris Wagner!
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) December 15, 2018
They had some tough breaks — including a potential Sean Kuraly tally being waived off in the second — but the ice tilted in the Bruins’ favor midway through the third.
Fourth line winger Chris Wagner buried his third of the year with a slick snap shot at 7:08. Fifty-four seconds later, top-line center David Krejci pounced on a rebound after David Pastrnak hit the crossbar to even things up at 3-3.
“The way we came back, it felt that momentum was on our side,” Krejci said after notching his fifth of the season.
That momentum faded quickly, and Krejci was on the receiving end of that too. The Czech centerman lost a key faceoff draw to Sidney Crosby moments after the Bruins iced the puck. Kris Letang then fired a shot from the point that tipped off Jake Guentzel’s stick past Halak for the go-ahead goal at 10:47.
Aston-Reese sealed the victory and any hopes of Boston’s comeback bid with his empty-netter at 19:54.
“Tough break [in the end],” Krejci said. “I lost a defensive zone faceoff and [the puck] winds up in the back of the net. It was a momentum killer and it was hard to come back.”
Unlikely goal scorers chip in
Brandon Carlo with his first goal in 116 games. Celebration says it all pic.twitter.com/mwdbWsv6qt
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 15, 2018
The Bruins are still battling through a patchwork lineup, but their secondary goal scoring issues have been a sore spot even with a healthy roster. Yet, two unlikely players found the back of the net even with DeSmith holding the fort.
Wagner’s third of the season was a microcosm of the fourth line’s success against the Penguins. The Walpole native, along with Noel Acciari and a bruised up Sean Kuraly — donning a full helmet cage following a nose procedure on Thursday — displayed a physical prowess that in turn led to numerous scoring chances. The trio landed 14 hits and combined for 12 shots on net — including a game-high nine for Wagner.
The third-period goal by Wagner marked his first in nine games. Brandon Carlo had to wait longer to get his first of the season.
For that matter, his first in the last two seasons.
Carlo’s slap shot past DeSmith at 11:53 of the second ended a 116-game drought that began on March 4, 2017. Alex Cora was in his first year as a bench coach for the Astros, ace pitcher Chris Sale hadn’t thrown a pitch for the Red Sox and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were still in Cleveland and Utah, respectively at the time Carlo notched his last goal.
The Bruins pulled within one on Carlo’s tally. But the third-year defenseman, who’s been more offensively active than year’s past, wished his long-awaited lamplighter came under a different scenario.
“Overall, I’m happy to get that goal,” Carlo said. “I just wished it translated into a win tonight.”
Good things usually happen when you throw pucks on net. It happened for Carlo, Wagner and Krejci. It just so happened that the Bruins faced a hot goalie on this night.