While it wasn’t exactly an ode to better puck management, the Penguins rebounded from a galling loss to the Flyers to whip the equally tough Bruins, 5-3, at TD Garden on Tuesday night. Pacing the win for the locals were Sidney Crosby, who collected two goals and an assist, and defenseman Kris Letang (three assists). Backup goalie Brent Johnson also shone, stopping 26 shots in his second solid performance since returning from an undisclosed injury.
From the outset Boston seemed intent on setting a physical tone. Remembering the rough treatment he’d received in Pittsburgh three weeks earlier, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara targeted Pens power forward James Neal for abuse.
While the Bruins concentrated on extracting a pound of flesh, the Penguins snatched the lead. With Neal and rugged Milan Lucic serving roughing minors, Crosby snapped his first goal of the game under the crossbar at 7:41. Seven minutes later the visitors struck again when Paul Martin’s lollipop floater eluded Marty Turco and landed just over the goal line. It was the first goal in 41 games for the redhead defender.
Unfortunately, the boys from the ‘Burgh reverted back to the loosey-goosey style that’s been giving the coaching staff fits. Benoit Pouliot beat Johnson to the glove side at 16:57, courtesy of a miscue. David Krejci pounced on a Letang giveaway on the opening shift of the second period and fed Lucic, who scored into a yawning net to tie the game at 2-2. Moments later Tyler Kennedy got into the act, coughing up the puck to fuel a 2-on-0 Bruins break. This time, however, Johnson robbed Tyler Seguin to bail his teammates out.
Following “Johnny’s” big save, the game settled into a ho-hum affair, as neither team mounted much offense. However, the action heated up when Daniel Paille leveled Matt Niskanen late in the period to draw a charging penalty. Seconds later Letang—in an Oscar-worthy performance—feigned a high stick to the chops to wrangle a 5-on-3 power play. Neal promptly cashed in, beating Turco with a wicked wrister for his 40th goal of the season. Forty-eight ticks later the Pens potted a second power-play goal, as Crosby one-timed Letang’s backdoor feed past Turco.
The “crash line” chipped in at 6:15 of the final frame, when Arron Asham planted himself in the crease and tipped home a pass from Craig Adams. But Boston’s Rich Peverley capitalized on a poor read by Martin at the eight-minute mark to close the gap to 5-3.
Fortunately, Johnson was there to slam the door. The veteran goalie smothered a Chara blast to blunt a Bruins’ power play and stopped the gifted Seguin in the waning moments to preserve the victory for the Pens.
Crosby was voted No. 1 star … Letang was named No. 3 star … Pascal Dupuis (an assist) extended his NHL-high points streak to 15 games … Evgeni Malkin and Neal are the first Penguins teammates to score 40 goals since Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Kovalev turned the trick in 2000-01 … Neal had his first fight in a Pens uniform, tangling with Andrew Ference in the second period … Boston outshot Pittsburgh (29-27) … Jordan Staal paced the Pens with a game-high eight hits … Niskanen and Joe Vitale left the game with injuries … Dustin Jeffrey, Ben Lovejoy, Richard Park, Brian Strait, and Eric Tangradi were scratches.
The Penguins (49-25-6) host the New York Rangers (51-22-7) at CONSOL Energy Center on Thursday night. New York clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference (and the Atlantic Division crown) with a win over Philadelphia. The Pens hold a three-point lead over Philly (with two games remaining) in the battle for the fourth seed.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.