Although this year’s first meeting between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins was featured on NBC Sports’ weekly “Rivalry Night,” the rivalry part of the promotion was open for debate. Although Boston ousted Stanley Cup favorite Pittsburgh from the postseason in a four-game sweep last spring, the two clubs don’t have the history or vitriol of, say, the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, or the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.
That didn’t matter by the end of Wednesday’s contest, however, as fans were treated to some highly entertaining, fast-paced, physical hockey that ended with the Penguins doing two things they couldn’t do in all four games combined last spring – scoring three goals and beating the Bruins.
“I think [a rivalry] is something that, probably even before the playoffs, was developing a bit with the way the games went,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “And then throw in a playoff series and it heats up pretty quick, and I think it just kind of carried on from there.”
After a dominant first period where Pittsburgh outshot Boston, 13-7, the teams played the second half with an edge. Crosby got into a shoving match with the Bruins’ Torey Krug. Pittsburgh defenseman Robert Bortuzzo dropped the gloves with Boston winger Jordan Caron. Penguins star blueliner Kris Letang took a tumble over the back of Bruins agitator Brad Marchand after a hip check, but was called for embellishment while Marchand went to the box for slashing.
There was also some friendly fire as Penguins top-line winger Pascal Dupuis took a stick to the mouth from Letang, then extracted his own tooth from a four-tooth bridge on the bench.
“These three were caved in the roof of my mouth,” Dupuis said. “I just pushed them out, and this one was too loose so I pulled it out. I tried [to pull] a second one, too, but it’s glued there.
“You’re in the game, you want to stay on the bench and you want to go back for your next shift and help your team win – so, dental work on the bench. I’ll try to put it back [in] later tonight, myself.”
“I know that I saw a steel rod in his tooth when it came out, so that’s not something you see every day,” Crosby laughed. “Kind of funny, kind of gross. I said, ‘Hurry up; you’re grossing me out. Just get rid of it.’”
There were also goals. After scoring only twice in the entirety of the Eastern Conference Final last spring, Pittsburgh got a power-play goal from Chris Kunitz, a snipe down the wing from Brandon Sutter for his first of the year, and an insurance tally from Jussi Jokinen with just over two minutes remaining.
The Penguins would need that insurance when, just 19 seconds later, Jarome Iginla, who played for Pittsburgh last spring but joined the Bruins over the offseason, bookended Patrice Bergeron’s early-period tally to make the score 3-2.
Boston scrambled for the tie at the end but, with the Penguins blocking shots and netminder Marc-Andre Fleury standing tall, Pittsburgh held on for the win.
“It was a tight game. They don’t give you a whole lot of chances and, when you do get them, you’ve got to try to bury them,” Sutter said. “We managed to capitalize toward the end of the game; we just stuck with what we wanted to do.
“It’s a big win for us and, obviously, you can’t say enough about Flower and some of the saves he made, especially that one [on David Krejci] with a couple seconds left. That’s a big building block for us. We stuck with our game, and I think we played just as well defensively.”
Although much of Pittsburgh’s roster remains the same, the Penguins’ game now – a significant change in system that incorporates the left-wing lock – looks much different than when the Bruins last met them in June.
“Obviously they haven’t seen it; they haven’t played against us the way we’re playing right now, and the result was there tonight,” Dupuis said. “I think in the neutral zone, they [can’t] come up with as much speed, and they’re the kind of team that’s trying to play quick. If you play quick you [force] guys out of position, you get odd-man rushes – but, right now, we have three or four guys all the time in front of their three guys. It worked.”
The Penguins have now won nine of their last 10 regular-season contests against the Bruins, making what happened last spring all the more baffling. Wednesday night, however, Pittsburgh’s players were only looking ahead.
“We’ll leave that up to other people to talk about, but we’re happy to get the win,” Crosby said. “Obviously all these points count and, coming off that series, it’s nice to get a big win against them.
“Those are the kinds of games that are measuring sticks for your team, and you want to make sure you respond well.”