PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins faced off in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night in what many feel may have been a preview of the Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins came in riding a five-game winning streak and sitting atop the Atlantic Division, while the Bruins skated in with a modest three-game winning streak and sitting in second place in the Northeast Division, one point behind the idle Montreal Canadiens.
The Penguins made the game live up to its billing, rallying from a two-goal deficit and scoring three third-period goals for a 3-2 victory at CONSOL Energy Center.
“That’s the thing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted no matter what kind of lead you have,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said.
The win extended the Penguins winning streak to a league-best six.
The Penguins scored a trio of goals on Bruins goaltender Anton Khudobin in the third period. The first came at 13:42 of the third, when the red-hot Chris Kunitz one-timed a Kris Letang pass from the point while positioned in the right faceoff circle. The goal propelled him to the team lead with 18 and gave him points in 17 of his last 20 games.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma could sense his team’s optimism after the goal, “Our team felt like at that point we were going to get another goal,” he said.
That goal would come less than a minute later when the Penguins broke into the Bruins zone on an odd-man rush and Brandon Sutter backhanded a James Neal pass from in tight past Khudobin to tie the game at two.
“We gave them some hope and we had to come out in the third a lot stronger and we didn’t,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
The Penguins completed their comeback by taking advantage of a Bruins turnover. Sutter picked off an errant Dennis Seidenberg pass and broke in two-on-one with Sidney Crosby. Rather than passing to the NHL’s leader in points, Sutter chose to throw a wrist shot at Khudobin, which sailed into the back of the net with 2:03 left in regulation.
“For (Sutter) to step up with two big ones like that; that’s huge for us,” Crosby said.
The Bruins opened the scoring while on the power play just 4:45 into the contest when Zdeno Chara blasted a slap shot from the point over the shoulder of Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury and just under the crossbar. Patrice Bergeron provided the screen in front, obstructing Fleury’s view.
The goal continued the Penguins’ woes on the penalty kill. Going into Tuesday’s action the Pittsburgh penalty kill ranked 22nd, killing opponents’ power plays at a less-than-impressive 78.8 percent rate. Compare that with the Bruins’ league-best 92.3 percent penalty-kill rate.
The Bruins scored again with 4:30 left in the first. Bergeron corralled the puck behind the net and passed it out diagonally from below the goal line to Tyler Seguin in the slot who was able to wrist the bouncing puck just underneath the cross bar as he was falling to the ice.
Fleury made 14 saves to earn the victory, while Khudobin was the hard-luck loser making 31 saves.
“For us to squeeze it out in the last few minutes is huge, and everyone wants to score goals, but I think we did a lot of things right,” said Sutter.
NOTES: Entering play Tuesday, Pittsburgh was the only team in the NHL that boasted four double-digit scorers this season: Chris Kunitz (18 goals), James Neal (17), Sidney Crosby (12) and Pascal Dupuis (11). … The Bruins have just one break of consecutive days remaining this season (March 28-29). … Pittsburgh goaltender Tomas Vokoun is one shutout shy from becoming the 26th goaltender in NHL history to record 50. … Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg played in his 200th game. … Scratches for Pittsburgh were center Evgeni Malkin (upper body), defenseman Simon Despres, and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Scratched for Boston were center Chris Kelly (lower body), left wing Lane MacDermid and defenseman Aaron Johnson. … The Penguins next play Thursday at Toronto. The Bruins will also be in action Thursday when they host the Florida Panthers.
Lightning 3, Panthers 2: Steven Stamkos scored the go-ahead goal 5:30 into the third period on the power play and Anders Lindback made 37 saves as visiting Tampa Bay edged Florida.
Stamkos scored his league-leading 20th goal on a low shot from below the left faceoff circle for a 3-2 lead and Lindback stopped Shawn Matthias to preserve the lead. Martin St. Louis recorded a goal and two assists and captain Vincent Lecavalier had one of each as Tampa Bay defeated Florida for the seventh straight game despite being outshot 39-13.
Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky scored goals for the Panthers, who saw their winless streak grow to four games (0-3-1). Jacob Markstrom made 10 saves in his fifth straight start.
Lindback made 17 saves in the first period and the Lightning scored twice on three shots. Lecavalier knocked home St. Louis’ pass 1:36 into the contest and Alex Killorn recorded his second assist after feeding St. Louis at the right of the net with 2:12 left for a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
Florida outshot the Lightning 13-3 in the second session and Versteeg cut the lead in half only 13 seconds in after a turnover behind the net. Kopecky tied the game at 11:24 after accepting Jack Skille’s feed at the bottom of the right faceoff circle before wiring a low shot past a screened Lindback.
Canucks 2, Blue Jackets 1 (SO): Mason Raymond’s controversial shootout goal helped visiting Vancouver earn its first win in five games.
The Canucks’ second shooter in the bonus format, Raymond spun around on his backhand and tucked the puck into the open net. Columbus coach Todd Richards was adamant that forward progress was not maintained on Raymond’s attempt, but the referees allowed it to stand and Roberto Luongo poke-checked Mark Letestu to seal the victory.
Defenseman Jason Garrison scored in regulation for Vancouver, which snapped the Blue Jackets’ five-game winning streak and won for just the fourth time in its last 13 games. Luongo made 26 saves and was perfect in the shootout for his first win in three starts.
Letestu scored for Columbus, which has points in its last eight games. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 37 shots in his fourth straight start.
Letestu opened the scoring early in the second period, grabbing his own rebound while driving to the net and putting a backhand shot around Luongo. Garrison tied the game late in the period with a one-timer from the point through traffic just as a Vancouver power play expired.
Hurricanes 4, Capitals 0: Justin Peters turned aside 26 shots for his second career shutout as visiting Carolina won for the sixth time in seven games.
Riley Nash scored twice and defenseman Joe Corvo also tallied as the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes moved 10 points ahead of Washington, which suffered its third straight loss in the opener of the home-and-home series.
Peters, who was making his third start of the season, registered his first shutout since blanking the Capitals on Feb. 12, 2012. Braden Holby, who shut out Carolina last month, made 32 saves.
Corvo gave the Hurricanes the only goal they would need at 3:55 of the first period. The defenseman wristed a bad-angle shot from behind the goal line that deflected off Holtby’s mask and into the net.
Nash scored twice in a 12 1/2-minute span in the second period for his first career two-goal contest. Patrick Dwyer capped the scoring with an empty-net tally with 81 seconds remaining.
Sabres 3, Rangers 1: Marcus Foligno scored twice and Jhonas Enroth turned aside 32 shots to record his first victory since Nov. 26, 2011 as host Buffalo snapped a four-game winless skid (0-2-2).
Thomas Vanek’s goal snapped a tie with 7:20 remaining in the second period and defenseman Andrej Sekera added a pair of assists for the Sabres, who were outshot 18-3 in the third period.
After Derek Stepan opened the scoring with a short-handed goal at 4:17 of the second period, Foligno forged a tie just 1:18 later by snapping a 20-game goalless drought. Foligno settled the puck after a shot off the end boards before tucking it inside the right post for his first goal since Jan. 27.
Vanek gave Buffalo a lead it would not relinquish after accepting captain Jason Pominville’s diagonal cross-ice feed. The Austrian skated in and snapped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist (19 saves) for his 14th goal — and second in three games.
Foligno provided insurance with 8:12 remaining in the third period after tapping home the rebound of Brian Flynn’s shot from the point.