PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Boston Bruins insist they aren’t trying to draw the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins into a street fight.
However, if one breaks out during the Eastern Conference finals, all the better.
David Krejci scored two more goals during his torrid post-season, and the Bruins shut down the Penguins 3-0 in Round 1—make that Game 1—on Saturday night.
Nathan Horton assisted on both of Krejci’s scores and added an insurance goal in the third period, and Tuukka Rask stopped 29 shots for the Bruins, who silenced Sidney Crosby and the rest of the NHL’s top-scoring team.
Boston did it by forcing the Penguins into the kind of sloppy, undisciplined play they largely avoided during the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Crosby was penalized twice, reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin engaged in a rare fight, and longtime instigator Matt Cooke was ejected after he checked Boston’s Adam McQuaid from behind into the boards in the second period. That ratcheted up the intensity from contentious to chippy in a matter of seconds.
“They were a little bit frustrated and we just wanted to put the pressure on them. Good things happen when we do that,” Horton said.
And bad things happen to the Penguins. Pittsburgh came in averaging a league-high 4.27 goals in the playoffs but couldn’t solve Rask. The Penguins hit the post a handful of times and seemed a bit off following an eight-day break between rounds.
Tomas Vokoun stopped 27 shots but surrendered a soft goal to Krejci, and Pittsburgh’s sizzling power play cooled off. The Penguins came in leading playoff teams with the man advantage, scoring on 28 per cent of their chances, but went 0 for 4 in the opener.
“We didn’t play in a week and I think probably was pretty emotional, getting into it a little bit,” Crosby said. “Like I said that’s not something we go out there looking for.”
Yet it’s something the Penguins are sure to expect again heading into Game 2 on Monday night. Boston clogged the neutral zone to disrupt the timing of Pittsburgh’s free-flowing offence then counterpunched behind Krejci, whose 19 points in the playoffs lead the league.
“He’s a good player,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “Why should he be different than Crosby or Malkin, who are good players?”
For a night anyway, Krejci was a notch better. Crosby and Malkin generated plenty of scoring chances, but Boston linemates Krejci and Horton buried theirs.
“That line was really good for us,” Julien said. “They made some great plays and scored some big goals.”
It’s a role often filled by Crosby and Malkin, but Pittsburgh’s two stars—not to mention the rest of the team—couldn’t find a way to sneak a puck by Rask.
Crosby hit the post in the opening minutes, and Pittsburgh put the kind of pressure on Rask that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said would be necessary if they wanted to advance.
Rask, playing this deep in the post-season for the first time, proved equal to the challenge. He stuffed Crosby from point-blank range on the power play, then added an acrobatic save on Malkin in the final moments of the period when Malkin attempted to bang home a pass off the end boards.
The stop preserved a 1-0 Boston lead after Krejci beat Vokoun 8:23 into the game. Krejci’s sixth goal of the post-season was also the first sloppy mistake by Vokoun during his excellent playoff run.
The Bruins raced in on a 3-on-2 break, and the NHL’s leading post-season scorer found himself alone 30 feet in front of the net. The shot slid by defenceman Paul Martin and rolled slowly through Vokoun’s legs and into the net.
The game’s tenor, however, changed abruptly in the second period when Cooke slammed McQuaid from behind into the boards behind the Bruins net.
McQuaid had his back turned when Cooke came in at full speed and raised his left arm just before impact. The collision sent McQuaid crumpling to the ice. Cooke—whose career was pockmarked with suspensions and fines for hits before he made it a point to clean up his play two years ago—was given a major penalty for boarding and was ejected.
“We all know the history with (Cooke),” Crosby said. “It’s going to be looked at and scrutinized a lot more because it’s him, but I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s a penalty because it’s Cooke.”
By the end of the second period—after Brad Marchand thumped James Neal into the boards in front of the Pittsburgh bench—the Penguins turned their anger on the Bruins.
Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and Boston’s Rich Peverley were called for unsportsmanlike conduct 5 seconds before intermission, a preview to the main event moments later.
Just as the horn sounded, Malkin and Bergeron started up, with Malkin dropping Bergeron to the ice with a couple shots to the face. It ended with both assistant captains given fighting majors.
The momentary momentum swing, however, also left Pittsburgh without one of its key performers for a crucial power play at the start of the third period.
“It did, I think, get us off our game,” Bylsma said. “I think we could have come out and scored a power-play goal, it would have been different. We weren’t able to get back at our game after that power play.”
Instead, Malkin was still in the penalty box when Krejci punched in a rebound for his 19th point of the playoffs 4:04 into the period to give Boston a two-goal lead.
Horton put it away less than 4 minutes later with a blast from the left circle. The puck darted over Vokoun’s glove and seemed to deflate the Penguins. Pittsburgh trailed longer in the opener—52 minutes—than it did during its entire five-game series win over Ottawa in the second round.
“It’s a great start but it’s just one game,” Rask said. “They keep doing that, they’re going to score some goals.”
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP