As the old saying goes, “the bigger they are the harder they fall.” The adage certainly held true during Sunday afternoon’s matinee battle between Pittsburgh and Boston. Painting a bulls-eye on mammoth defenseman Zdeno Chara, the Penguins cut the Bruins’ captain and his teammates down to size with a relentless physical assault en route to a 5-2 victory at CONSOL Energy Center.
With their sights firmly set on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the hard-hitting Pens made mincemeat of the larger Bruins. Matt Cooke set the tone for a bristling encounter when he rammed Chara into the boards on the opening shift. Minutes later Arron Asham potted the first goal of the game, sweeping home a shot-pass from Ben Lovejoy.
Shortly after Brian Rolston flubbed a breakaway in front of Marc-Andre Fleury, the “Peskies” struck again. James Neal worked off a check by Adam McQuaid and pushed the puck up the wall to Evgeni Malkin, who relayed the rubber to Matt Niskanen. The mobile rearguard rifled a shot through heavy traffic to stake the Pens to a 2-0 lead.
After Fleury stopped a quick salvo by Milan Lucic and David Krejci, Boston began to unravel. With Lucic and Brad Marchand cooling their heels in the sin bin, Malkin found Neal with a crisp pass in the left-wing circle. Crouching down low, No. 18 wristed the puck through Tim Thomas’s five-hole to end a lengthy scoring drought.
Desperate to reinforce his reeling troops, Boston coach Claude Julien pulled Thomas in favor of veteran Marty Turco to start the second period. Putting his supreme puckhandling skills to good use, Turco began to disrupt the Penguins’ ferocious forecheck. Meanwhile, Krejci snapped the puck over Fleury’s glove on a breakaway to pare the Pens’ lead to 3-1. The home team regained a three-goal edge at 4:27 on a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play by “the Firing Line,” capped off by Chris Kunitz’ 20th goal of the season.
Once again the Penguins appeared to have Boston on the ropes. However, Turco lifted his team with a spectacular circus-style save on Jordan Staal at the nine-minute mark. Moments later Krejci struck again off a pretty feed from Lucic to make the score 4-2. The resurgent Bruins continued to press the attack, but Fleury (34 saves) blunted a backdoor play by Joe Corvo to protect the Pens’ lead.
“Flower” continued to sparkle in the final 20 minutes. With the Bruins working on a power play, he stoned Corvo and Krejci on a pair of rapid-fire chances. After the Penguins killed off a boarding call to Malkin, Pascal Dupuis applied the coup de grace. The hustling winger nudged the puck past Lucic at the Pens’ blue line, raced in on Turco and beat the veteran goalie with a sensational forehand-to-backhand move.
Neal (a goal and two assists) was named the No. 1 star … Malkin (three assists) earned the No. 2 star … Malkin (500th career point) and Neal (200th career point) reached career milestones with assists on Kunitz’ goal … Geno vaulted past Steven Stamkos in the NHL scoring race (84-82) … Staal (an assist) extended his career-best points streak to eight games … Boston out-shot Pittsburgh (36-32) … The Pens’ nine-game winning streak is the fourth longest in franchise history … Eric Tangradi dressed in place of Richard Park … Sidney Crosby, Dustin Jeffrey, Brent Johnson, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Park, and Brian Strait were scratches.
The Penguins (42-21-5) take to the road to challenge the division-leading Rangers (42-18-7) at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. The Penguins (89 points) trail the Rangers by two points in the Eastern Conference race.
*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.