PITTSBURGH – The Boston Bruins left Pittsburgh with a loss and a whole lot of anger after losing one of their best players to what they felt was a cheap-shot hit.
Evgeni Malkin scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period after former linemate Pascal Dupuis tied it, and the Pittsburgh Penguins remained unbeaten since the Olympic break by beating the Bruins 2-1 on Sunday.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 21 shots by the NHL’s lowest-scoring team to help the Penguins end Boston’s five-game road winning streak. Boston, which had won six of seven, is 1-1 during a season-long seven-game road trip.
The Bruins played the final 5:37 without centre Marc Savard, who received a concussion while being levelled by a blindside hit by Matt Cooke. Savard released a shot from above the circles only to be struck in the head from behind by Cooke’s raised left arm and shoulder. Cooke was not penalized.
Savard was unconscious briefly, but was moving his arms and legs before being carried off the ice. He returned to the team hotel, along with a member of the Bruins’ medical staff, but was hopeful of rejoining the team as early as Monday.
“It’s pretty obvious that was definitely a dirty hit,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien, who said Cooke should be suspended. “That’s probably the classic blind-side hit to the head.”
NHL general managers are considering a rule change for next season that would ban such hits, but the Bruins still believe Cooke’s hit crossed the line. Cooke defended himself by saying he was only finishing his check.
“At some point, there’s got to be a clear indication from the league (what’s legal and what’s not) because we’ve seen this so many times now,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “You don’t like to see anyone, your own teammate or an opposing player, lay on the ice like that.”
Since Crosby scored the winning goal for Canada against the United States in the Olympic gold-medal game a week ago Sunday, the Penguins are 4-0 – rallying in their last three. They trailed 1-0 after Blake Wheeler scored on a power play early in the second period.
Crosby has two goals and four assists while getting at least a point in all four victories. For now, Crosby – the NHL’s leading goal-scorer – isn’t showing any signs of Olympic fatigue despite playing five games in eight days and eight in 13 days.
Neither are the Penguins, who have surged to the top of the Atlantic Division standings following a pre-Olympic slump in which they dropped four of five before the break began Feb. 15.
Pittsburgh took the game’s first four penalties, and got a scare when the newly acquired Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jordan Staal each hobbled off the ice only to return early in the second period, yet had enough offence to win.
Dupuis, dropped off Malkin’s line when the Penguins acquired Ponikarovsky from the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, scored his third goal in four games to tie it at 8:57 of the second. Dupuis took Crosby’s giveback pass along the goal-line and was twice denied by goalie Tim Thomas before finally shoving the puck – and the goalie – into the net.
“I just tried to jam it in there,” said Dupuis, who has rotated among lines since leaving Malkin’s. “He had his pad on it and I just pushed his pad a little bit behind the goal line and took a couple of whacks on it. I saw Rupper (Mike Rupp) on the other side pushing the other leg, so I knew the goalie was going to go into the net.”
To Thomas, there’s nothing a goalie can do to prevent a goal when he and the puck are being shoved into the net simultaneously.
“It’s frustrating as a goalie because, to be realistic, they let that go every time and it’s impossible to hold your leg against the post,” Thomas said. “A guy’s pushing you into the net; it’s ice, you slide, there’s no way to hold yourself.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh is 10-1-1 when tied after two periods; Boston is 10-3-6. … Despite not getting a goal, Crosby has 14 goals in 16 games. … The Penguins gained at least a point for the eighth consecutive game. … The Penguins are 6-0-2 in their last eight home games. … Both teams play their next five games on the road.