BOSTON — Wednesday night, the Buffalo Sabres spoiled a special night for the Bruins and their fans in the wake of Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings, rallying for a 3-2 shootout victory.
Saturday, another day of tribute at TD Garden, and the visiting team again spoiled the celebration.
Jarome Iginla, playing his first game in Boston since spurning the Bruins in favor of going to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, and Chris Letang scored third-period power-play goals to give the Penguins their sixth straight victory, 3-2, and the Eastern Conference regular-season championship.
“These types of races, top of the division, top of the conference usually come down to the last game, last two games,” said Penguins coach Dave Bylsma. “To be able to clinch the division and now clinch the conference this early says a lot for our team and how we played through the shortened season, with the different types of injuries and different people in our lineup.”
The Penguins, playing this manhunt-delayed game without the injured Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, and with backup goalie Tomas Vokoun playing a strong game, earned home ice throughout the conference playoffs.
“It’s good to clinch first place and get away from here with two points,” said Vokoun, 12-4 as Marc-Andre Fleury’s valuable backup.
Iginla said he expected the boos he got from the fans every time he touched the puck. He also anticipated he’d be challenged to a fight by one of the Bruins, and he was, scrapping with Nathan Horton, who suffered what appeared to be a right hand injury when he hit the ice at the end of the brief get-together.
“No, I’m not surprised,” Iginla said about the fans. “At the time I was very humbled and flattered, Boston and Pitt, I had an opportunity to go to both teams. Both teams were interested in me, I made the choice to come to Pitt, thrilled with that. I also hear some great things, I have some friends on that team, I hear some great things about the city, the organization, those things.
“I expected that. I expected a few boos and stuff and I think that’s fair, but I was just trying to come and … I haven’t had a lot of success in this building (9-0 loss with Calgary last season), actually, lately so it was nice to get a win here for sure.”
The Penguins, 21-2 in their last 23 games, still have a chance to catch Chicago for the President’s Trophy, trailing by four points before the Blackhawks played on Saturday night.
The Bruins, beginning a stretch of six games in nine days because of two bombing postponements, lost their fourth straight (0-3-1) and were trailing Montreal, also playing Saturday night, for the Northeast Division lead and No. 2 playoff seed.
Boston’s coach, Claude Julien, is concerned about the lack of goal scoring and also aimed criticism at goalie Tuukka Rask.
“You’re not going to point the finger but you’re goaltender’s got to make some saves too,” Julien said. “At the right time … I’m not just pointing at him but he’s got to be better and your (penalty killing) a lot of the times is as good as your goaltending … everything has to be good for your penalty killing to be good.”
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, talking about another emotional home game, said he felt “pretty much the same as the last game with what it meant for this city and this country. We want to do our best and work hard. I guess it’s just too bad we didn’t get the result.”
Vokoun stopped 38 shots, Brad Marchand beating him with his 17th goal of the year in the first period. Tyler Seguin scored his 16th goal with 2.6 seconds left, a meaningless goal.
Marchand took a roughing penalty, leading to Iginla’s goal.
Jussi Jokinen, also picked up by the Penguins at the trade deadline, had a goal and two assists, giving him four goals and seven points in six games with his new team. He drew the penalty on Marchand with a high stick that wasn’t caught.
Jokinen assisted on both power-play goals, Iginla scoring the 528th goal of his Hall of Fame career and 12th this season, three with Pittsburgh.
Letang scored his fifth goal 3:46 later.
Jokinen beat Rask to tie the game 5:10 into the second period.
The Bruins might have suffered damage to their playoff chances, as they lost Horton (no report after the game); and McQuaid could be hurting after a low hit by Matt Cooke, a dark name in recent Bruins history.
There was no report on Horton. In the second period, Matt Cooke’s hip check left defenseman McQuaid crawling to the bench and he had to be helped down the runway to the locker room. McQuaid returned to the bench late in the second period and played in the third.
“It’s pretty obvious that it’s a cheap shot from Cooke,” Julian said. “The typical same guy; he’s got to go low and get a guy right around the knee area and turns his back.”
Asked before the game to describe his emotions on a most unusual Friday, Julien said, “The same as everybody else. When those things happen in your city it’s a normal thing to be a little bit, obviously, concerned, and like everybody else, extremely happy when they finally got the second suspect.
“At least we could all breathe a little easier and sleep a little easier. And now it’s, hopefully, time to work ourselves into trying to get things back to normal again, but it will always leave a scar somewhere. There’s some damage done, but now we have a job today, and that unfortunately is what our responsibility is.”
The Penguins were hunkered down in their hotel Friday.
“Clearly, we’re all watching for days now and being here and being in the hotel being inside kind of certainly became a part of the situation and a part of what the city of Boston was going through,” Bylsma said. “And I think although we weren’t a part of it, the celebration outside as a city and as a people last night, and just feel like it’s a great opportunity to play a game with the city of Boston, not just against the Bruins but with the city and with the Bruins.”
NOTES: Boston scratched a healthy but struggling Milan Lucic, while Carl Soderberg, just over from Sweden with a three-year contract, debuted. … The Bruins wore baseball caps saluting Boston, Watertown and state police forces in pre-game warm-ups, many of the players tossing the caps into the stands after the skate. At the other end, the Penguins had “Boston Strong” T-shirts under their jerseys, complete with the Bruins’ logo, and “Boston 617″ decals on their game shirts (and helmets), along with “Boston Strong” ribbon decals. The jerseys are to be auctioned off for “The One Fund,” aiding victims of the bombings and their families. Pittsburgh coach Bylsma also sported a T-shirt before the game. … National Anthem singer Rene Rancourt again led the crowd in a loud rendition of the anthem, with a “U-S-A” chant going up when the song ended. This all followed a video tribute to Friday’s local heroes and the four people murdered by the alleged bombers. … There was a police and military presence outside TD Garden before the game. The Penguins visit Ottawa on Monday and then host Buffalo on Tuesday, that game re-scheduled from Saturday night to accommodate the Bruins. Boston hosts Florida Sunday. … A SWAT vehicle with a Bruins’ logo on it was visible at the manhunt scene Friday. “It was the battering ram, right? That’s the first thing somebody sees coming through; that’s pretty cool. I saw that and I hope I never have to see that up close,” Boston’s Andrew Ference said with a laugh. “That was pretty awesome to see those guys do that, and I’m not surprised because those guys, they’ve always been big Bruins guys. They’re always pretty eager to share how passionate they are about hockey.” … Bruins TV announcer Jack Edwards apologized on Twitter for comparing Cooke to Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan.