PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Boston Bruins keep talking about fortunate bounces and a dash of luck, insisting the margin between themselves and the Pittsburgh Penguins is thin.
At the moment, it looks like a chasm.
Brad Marchand scored twice during a four-goal first period and the Bruins routed the Pittsburgh 6-1 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It doesn’t matter what the series is at right now,” Marchand said. “If they get the next one, they’re right back in it. The next one is the one that’s most important.”
It’s a phrase the top-seed Penguins repeated after losing Game 1 on Saturday night to fall behind in a series for the first time in the playoffs. The inspired play they needed never materialized.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held scoreless for the second straight contest to send the NHL’s highest-scoring team slouching to Boston for Game 3 on Wednesday with its season on the line.
“Tonight was terrible, there’s no other way to describe it,” Crosby said. “A loss is a loss. It’s frustrating. You don’t like giving one like that. We really didn’t do a lot of things to give ourselves a chance to win. This one we have to forget pretty quickly.”
It won’t be easy.
David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron and Johnny Boychuk also scored for Boston while Tuukka Rask stopped 26 shots. Pittsburgh’s top-ranked power play went 0 for 2 and the Penguins were never in it after the Bruins scored three times in 17 minutes to chase Tomas Vokoun.
Brandon Sutter netted Pittsburgh’s lone goal. Vokoun gave up three first-period goals on 12 shots before being replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury.
“We’ve gotten away from our game,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ve gotten off our game plan.”
The Bruins had more than a little something to do with it. Pouncing on every mistake—of which there were plenty to choose—Boston buried the Penguins early. Not bad for a team that needed an improbable third-period rally in Game 7 of the first round against Toronto to advance.
In the span of three weeks, Boston has morphed from a team hanging by a thread into one capable of bookending the Stanley Cup it won two years ago.
“Winning that Toronto series created some momentum from that,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. “We’ve been able to keep riding that momentum. We need to keep pushing harder.”
Another nudge or two would almost certainly send the Penguins toppling over.
Pittsburgh blamed its choppy play in the opener, including a rare fight by Malkin, on an eight-day layoff, stressing there was no need to panic.
Might be time to start now.
The last 16 teams to go up 2-0 in the conference finals have advanced to the Cup finals. The Penguins managed to escape a 2-0 hole against the Bruins in 1991 on their way to the franchise’s first championship.
These days Mario Lemieux is relegated to watching from the owner’s box. At the moment, the view isn’t pretty.
Marchand took advantage of a sloppy play by Crosby to give Boston the lead just 28 seconds into the game. Crosby attempted to flip a bouncing puck back into Boston’s zone. Marchand casually flipped it out of the air, then streaked in on Vokoun before putting a wrist shot over Vokoun’s glove.
The Bruins—and Marchand—were just getting started.
Boston poured in two more goals to rattle the Stanley Cup favourites and end Vokoun’s run through the post-season. Not that Vokoun had much help from the guys in front of him.
Kris Letang failed to clear the puck at the end of a Boston power play and Torey Krug kept it in and fired a slap shot at the net. Neither Vokoun, Letang or Paul Martin could grab it and Horton reached down and tapped it in between a sea of sticks to make it 2-0.
Krejci’s eighth goal of the post-season pushed it to 3-0, though his shot was the easy part. Jaromir Jagr and Bergeron took care of the hard part, dismantling Pittsburgh’s defence with a series of slick passes that left the NHL’s leading playoff scorer all by his lonesome in front of the Pittsburgh net.
“We were playing catch-up right from the start,” Crosby said. “It’s not a good feeling.”
And it only got worse.
The score put an abrupt end to Vokoun’s hot streak. The 36-year-old journeyman won six of his first seven starts after replacing a shaky Fleury in the opening series against the New York Islanders. He was hardly to blame for the loss in the opener against Boston, but Bylsma nodded at Fleury after Krejci’s goal.
Fleury returned to a warm ovation and for a moment it gave Pittsburgh a jolt. Sutter snapped a wrist shot over Rask’s stick with 34 seconds left in the first period and the Penguins appeared to have life.
Marchand quickly snuffed it out, rifling a shot over Fleury’s outstretched glove to restore Boston’s three-goal edge.
That was more than enough. Way more.
The Bruins allowed five goals in a game only three times all season. The Penguins never even came close to getting two as the NHL’s highest-scoring team had trouble getting out of its own way. Players collided, tripped over themselves and seemed unable to generate any kind of energy.
Boston squeezed away all the open ice Pittsburgh enjoyed while racing to the league’s second-best record. The Bruins blocked shots, poke-checked and pushed the Penguins all over the ice.
The boos grew to a dull roar when Pittsburgh flubbed a second-period power play. They dissipated late, if only because so many left after Bergeron’s goal made it 5-1 only 27 seconds into the third period. There’s a chance it may be the last home game of the season. The Penguins need to win at least one of two in Boston to force a Game 5.
NOTES: Krejci’s 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) lead all scorers in the post-season … Pittsburgh adjusted its lineup before the game, scratching D Mark Eaton and RW Tyler Kennedy in favour of D Deryk Engelland and C Joe Vitale.