PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins met for the second time in less than a week on Sunday afternoon with both teams wanting to establish their superiority atop the Eastern Conference.
And it was the Penguins who were superior — at least on Sunday — as they skated to a 2-1 victory to extend their league-best winning streak to nine straight.
“It was a tight game and it ended up in a 2-1 hockey game in which I think both teams had a chance to win,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
Although the Penguins have been an offensive juggernaut with three players in the top 15 in points, it was a stingy defense that, again, propelled the Penguins to victory. Consider that Pittsburgh has allowed just five goals in its past five games.
“They played pretty sound defensively, you’ve got to give them that,” said Bruins left wing Brad Marchant.
Just one point separated the two teams heading into the game. The Penguins came in with 42 total points, good for second place in the Eastern Conference standings. Meanwhile, the Bruins entered play with 41 total points, perched fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins got the first tally of the game at the 12:06 mark of the first when Pascal Dupuis dug out the puck from the skates of Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara behind the net, backhanded a pass out to Chris Kunitz, who then threw a backhand pass of his own across the slot to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
Crosby corralled the puck, backed up slightly and wristed the puck past Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask for his 13th of the season.
“We just wanted to try to get a good start,” Crosby said. “They’re pretty disciplined defensively so they’re comfortable playing tight games so if we can get a lead or put some pressure on them maybe we get them out of it a little bit, it’s to our advantage.”
The Bruins countered less than five minutes later when defenseman Johnny Boychuk took a shot from the right point that hit traffic in the high slot and caromed to the stick of a wide-open Tyler Seguin who promptly wristed the puck into an open net from the bottom of left faceoff circle.
Penguins netminder Tomas Vokoun had positioned himself to stop Boychuk’s shot and wasn’t able to recover in time to challenge the shot of Seguin.
It appeared as though the game would remain knotted at one heading into the second, but with just 32 seconds remaining in the first frame, the Penguins retook the lead when Craig Adams broke down the right wing and fired a slap shot on Rask.
The puck deflected slightly causing Rask to have to make an awkward glove save. After the save, Rask fell forward and stumbled to try to get back into position. This allowed for Joe Vitale to swoop in and roof a wrist shot over Rask before he could fully regain his composure.
The tally was Vitale’s first of the season.
“To chip in and help the guys out in a one-goal game like this, a big game against Boston, is pretty exciting,” Vitale said.
The Bruins’ best chance to tie the game came with just under seven minutes left in regulation when Seguin attempted a wrap-around shot that eluded Vokoun, but slid right along the goal line without entering the net.
Vokoun made 31 saves in the victory, while Rask made 16 saves in defeat.
“I think it was a confident game all the way through from (Vokoun) in the net,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma.
Both teams lost players to lower body injuries in the game.
Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang left the game in the first with an apparent foot injury after getting tangled up with Bruins defenseman Brad Marchand. David Krejci exited the game in the third when he took a slap shot to the knee area from teammate Boychuk. Both will be re-evaluated on Monday.
NOTES: The Penguins have posted a record of 42-26-6 in the 74 games that Evgeni Malkin has missed in his career. … The Bruins have outshot their opponents in all but seven games this season. … Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis is tied with Steven Stamkos for the NHL lead in even strength goals with 13. … The Bruins now are 18-1-0 in games that they have held their opponent to two or fewer goals. … Scratches for the Penguins were Malkin (upper body), defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and defenseman Simon Despres. Scratched for the Bruins were left wing Lane MacDermid and defenseman Aaron Johnson. … The Penguins next play on Tuesday night when they host the Washington Capitals. The Bruins will next be in action on Tuesday as well, when they travel to Winnipeg to take on the Jets.