The Bruins were not quite in a must-win situation on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, but they played like it.
As a result, the B’s produced a terrific answer performance to Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Penguins, beating the Pens at PPG Paints Arena, 3-1.
As often happens with this team when it finds itself in a tough spot, the leaders led the way. The B’s got goals from David Krejci, Brad Marchand and newest top six forward Taylor Hall. Tuukka Rask was superb, especially early in the game, making 25 saves. He didn’t get beaten until Jeff Carter nailed a perfect shot off the far post and in with 2:21 left, but the B’s clamped back down after that.
“These past couple of games have been playoff-type hockey. Both teams are defending, the ice is tough to get out there, there’s no space to make fancy plays,” said Rask, sporting an ice pack on his right hip after the game. “You have to be patient and today we played a very smart and patient game. And we got rewarded. Moving forward, we have to be comfortable playing those types of games. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But chances are when you play like that, you win.”
As good as Rask was, this game was mostly about the big dogs up front. Krejci, who also had the primary helper on Hall’s goal, said the players “addressed some things” heading into the game, especially with the very hot New York Rangers pushing for that final playoff spot. The win maintained their four-point lead with two games in hand on the Blueshirts, winners over Buffalo on Tuesday. It also pulled the B’s within a point and one game in hand on the Islanders for the third seed.
After the loss on Sunday in which the B’s could not get into the scoring areas much, they were a much more determined group on Tuesday.
“It’s no secret, I don’t think we got inside with the puck much last game and we did that today,” said Krejci. “Sometimes, if it doesn’t work maybe you draw a penalty or something happens. That was one of the things (discussed). Get to the net.”
While the leaders led, the followers followed. They paid the price by blocking 21 shots, four apiece rom Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller. And while winning the “hits” stat often only means your team was chasing the game, that was not the case on Tuesday. The B’s were credited with a whopping 50 hits to the Pens’ 25. The only skater not credited with a hit was the undersized Matt Grzelcyk. Sean Kuraly and Lauzon led the way with six apiece (Lauzon also dropped the gloves with Teddy Blueger in the third) while Trent Frederic and Chris Wagner had five each.
Frederic, playing his first game since April 6, had more jump in his step than he did in his most recent games, earning a bump up to the Kuraly-Charlie Coyle line as Nick Ritchie dropped down to the Curtis Lazar-Wagner line.
“He did a good job on the walls. He’d been out for a while and we didn’t know if the timing would be there… as the game went on, he did good with it,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “There are some details there on his routes on the forecheck, just little things that you go through with every young guy. But I liked what I saw. It’s a big line, something we’ve been trying to construct here for a while and he added to it. He had a good look at the end (a post shot), probably builds his confidence when you get a chance to play with the puck. I liked what he brought for us.”
It appeared as though the B’s and Penguins would go into the third at 0-0 for the second straight game after the B’s could not convert on their first power play of the two-game set, stretching their streak of futility to an 0-for-14 skid.
But shortly after Evan Rodrigues left the box after serving two minutes for a very questionable roughing penalty, the B’s scored their first goal of the short series at 18:11.
Rask handed the puck off to Charlie McAvoy, who made a nice rush halfway up the ice before making a perfect pass to Krejci in stride at the blue line. Krejci went to his off side into the left circle, turning defenseman Mike Matheson, and then beating goalie Tristan Jarry with a far side backhand shot. That was Krejci’s seventh goal of the season and fourth since the trade deadline.
The B’s then made it 2-0 at 9:10 of the third period on a relentless play by their two top line wings. David Pastrnak withstood a neutral zone hit and continued to attack before feeding Marchand, who fired a shot that Jarry stopped. He could not control the rebound and Pastrnak had another whack at it. That did not go, but Marchand stayed in the play and was there at the side of the net to pop home the loose puck for his 26th of the year.
Then, with 7:42 left in the third, Hall made it 3-0 on another goal off the rush. Krejci dished to Hall in the high slot and Hall showed why he was the first overall pick 11 years ago, avoiding a Sidney Crosby (minus-3) stick check attempt and snapping a bullet over Jarry’s blocker shoulder.
With the way the B’s were playing, the Carter goal had little chance of throwing them off-kilter and they shut the Pens down with Jarry pulled for an extra skater.