PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Boston Bruins reminded Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins that Stanley Cup champions aren’t crowned in October.
Tim Thomas stopped 45 shots and the surging Bruins kept rolling with a 3-1 victory Monday night to improve to 14-0-1 in their last 15 games and pull within a point of the Penguins atop the Eastern Conference.
Gregory Campbell, Benoit Pouliot and Tyler Seguin scored for Boston as the defending champs put the clamps on Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“We don’t know how we’re going to win every night,” said Thomas, unbeaten in his last 10 starts. “We’re going to do it different ways with different guys, but all of us together at the same time. It’s been pretty nice to be a part of this team the last month.”
The Bruins haven’t lost in regulation since Halloween. Given the way they dominated the Penguins for long stretches in a game that felt more appropriate for April than early December, the streak could go on awhile.
Boston had little trouble with the Penguins, holding Crosby scoreless and killing all four of Pittsburgh’s power-play opportunities, including a pair of 5-on-3 advantages.
“(Thomas) made some good saves,” Crosby said. “We didn’t make it as difficult as we would have liked, but he certainly made some saves when he needed to. Give him credit. He made a couple good ones there, especially on that 5-on-3.”
Matt Cooke scored his sixth goal of the season and Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves for Pittsburgh, but the Penguins mustered little offence over the game’s first 50 minutes as Boston bolted to a 3-0 lead.
“You hope it’s a habit more than it’s a streak, so we’re trying to build those good habits and there’s no reason why you can’t give your best every night,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “So, I think our guys have gotten really good at that and so far it’s been great; it’s gotten us back to where we wanted to be and certainly kind of erases the tough start that we had.”
And then some.
While praising his team’s resilience, Julien pointed to this week’s stretch of three games in four days as a better litmus test for how far the Bruins have come. Boston travels to Winnipeg on Tuesday before hosting Southeast Division-leading Florida on Thursday.
Judging by the way they pushed the Penguins around, the Bruins are more than up to the task.
Unlike Boston, Pittsburgh has been steady all season. The Penguins came in 5-1-1 since Crosby returned from concussion-like symptoms two weeks ago, playing at times like a team ready to win its second Cup in four seasons.
They very well might, but the way the Bruins are playing it’s hard to call the Penguins a Cup favourite.
Boston kept Crosby in check—he finished with five shots in just more than 21 minutes of ice time—and never let Pittsburgh’s high-powered attack get in gear.
The Penguins’ power play looked disorganized at times and dead in the water on others.
They failed to score on a pair of 5-on-3s, including two listless minutes with the two-man advantage in the second period that produced only one quality scoring chance Thomas quickly turned away.
“It was probably a big turning point for us, because at that stage of the game we could have easily given them a chance to get back into it,” Julien said. “Our penalty kill did a great job.”
The Bruins controlled a tight first period, and Campbell gave them the lead 2:57 into the second, taking a feed from Daniel Paille and then chopping it past Fleury while getting whacked to the ice by Craig Adams.
Pouliot pushed the lead to 2-0 less than five minutes later, sizzling a wrist shot over Fleury’s glove. The Bruins kept pressing, with Seguin scoring his 13th of the season off a brilliant feed from Patrice Bergeron, the first power-play goal allowed by the Penguins in their last 10 games at Consol Energy Center.
Cooke briefly gave the Penguins life when he tapped in a pass from Joe Vitale to get Pittsburgh on the board with 9:04 remaining. Vitale followed his assist by taking down Campbell in a spirited brawl shortly after the ensuing faceoff.
The Penguins started peppering Thomas, but the majority of shots were mere innocent flips to the net Thomas gobbled up easily on a night Pittsburgh struggled at times to get out of its own way.
Crosby and linemate Chris Kunitz collided near centre ice in the third period, with both players laying on the ice for several seconds before slowly making their way to the bench. Crosby’s head came nowhere near Kunitz or the ice on the play and he returned to action a couple of minutes later.
“I don’t know what I hit my knee on, if it was his leg or, yeah, just kind of a bit of a stinger,” Crosby said. “Nothing major.”
NOTES: Jordan Caron and Steven Kampfer were scratched for the Bruins while Zbynek Michalek, Deryk Engelland and Richard Park were scratched by the Penguins. … Pittsburgh’s 23 shots in the third period were a season high. … The Penguins also played without D Kris Letang, who missed the game with a broken nose.