PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins faced off in a playoff series for the first time in 21 years on Saturday night, in the Eastern Conference finals.
Both teams were looking to take the first step toward getting back to the Stanley Cup Finals for a second time in four years. The Penguins captured the Cup in 2009 and the Bruins won it in 2011.
The Bruins took the first step, shutting out the high-octane Penguins 3-0 on the strength of two goals by David Krejci and strong penalty killing that stopped all four of Pittsburgh’s power-play chances.
The Penguins had been averaging more than four goals per game in the postseason and featured the NHL’s top power-play unit.
“You know what? I think it was a good win,” Krejci said. “I think it took lots of energy. It wasn’t easy.”
The Bruins struck first when Krejci, the points leader in the playoffs, fired a slap shot that deflected off defenseman Paul Martin and through the legs of Pittsburgh netminder Tomas Vokoun at 8:23 of the first period.
Martin had gone to the ice to block the shot, but he ended up right in front of Vokoun when the shot deflected off him.
“He’s a great player,” Boston forward Nathan Horton said. “He’s just as good as anyone else and he deserves all of the credit. It’s definitely not surprising to me that he’s at the top in almost every category.”
The Penguins nearly tied the score with just two seconds left in the first period when a shot trickled off Tuukka Rask’s pads and rolled just wide of the left post.
The series’ first controversy occurred early in the second period when Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for hitting Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid from behind. However, the Bruins did not get to work with the full five minutes of the penalty because Chris Kelly also received a two-minute roughing minor for going after Cooke. McQuaid was stymied but remained in the game.
When asked about the hit, Bruins coach Claude Julien offered, “No matter what I say, the league will rule on that stuff and move forward with it. You’ve got to trust, again, they’re going to make the right decision.”
The Bruins held the puck in the Pittsburgh zone for most of the three minutes on the power play, but Vokoun and the Penguins’ penalty killers were equal to the task. In fact, Pittsburgh has now killed 24 of 26 (92.3 percent) opponent power plays in home playoff games this postseason.
Pittsburgh received a third power-play opportunity at 11:04 of the second period and nearly tied the score seconds into the opportunity, but Chris Kunitz grabbed a rebound and rang it off the left post.
Meanwhile, the Bruins had a golden opportunity of their own during the same power play when Patrice Bergeron sneaked around forward Evgeni Malkin playing the point and broke in alone on a breakaway. But Vokoun was ready and turned aside the attempt.
Late in the second period, the Penguins went back on the man-advantage and Malkin rang another shot off the post.
After the second-period clock hit zero, a scrum ensued at center ice. When the players began pairing off, it was Malkin, last season’s MVP, dropping the gloves with Bergeron. Both received five-minute majors for fighting.
“Hopefully he doesn’t get hurt; that’s the first thing. He’s a pretty valuable guy to the team,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said of Malkin.
During the scrum, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby also got into it with both Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and Rask, shoving the Boston netminder.
“That’s not something we go out there looking for,” Crosby said. “I think it’s kind of a result of the way the game kind of escalated.”
The fight seemed to give the Bruins momentum, which ultimately led to a second Boston goal.
Krejci struck again at 4:04 of the third when he found his own rebound and pushed it past Vokoun. Krejci’s initial wrist shot struck Vokoun in the shoulder and popped high in the air, causing the Pittsburgh goalie to lose track of the puck. Krejci, however, followed the flight of the puck and was able to slide it in despite Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang’s attempt to bat it out of midair.
The Bruins dashed any hope of a Pittsburgh comeback with a third goal that came off the stick of Nathan Horton when he wristed a shot past Vokoun at 7:51 of the third period. Vokoun’s attention was divided because both Horton and Milan Lucic were left wide open near the Pittsburgh net.
Rask made 29 saves in the shutout and Vokoun had 27 saves.
“We’re going to have to come back with better focus to our game, more patience to how we play,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Game 2 will be Monday night in Pittsburgh.
NOTES: The official attendance was 18,628 and Pittsburgh’s 285th consecutive sellout. … The Penguins had an eight-game postseason winning streak against Boston snapped. The Bruins’ last postseason win against the Penguins prior to Saturday was Game 2 of the 1991 Wales Conference Finals in Boston Garden. … Of the 18 lifetime playoff games between the Penguins and Bruins not decided in overtime, just two have been one-goal decisions. … The Bruins have 40 or more shots in six of their 13 playoff games thus far. … The Penguins have 11 players on their roster that have won at least one Stanley Cup. The Bruins have 19. … Scratches for Pittsburgh included forwards Tanner Glass and Joe Vitale and defenseman Deryk Engelland. Scratches for Boston included forwards Jay Pandolfo and Chris Borque and defensemen Wade Redden and Matt Bartkowski.