PITTSBURGH – Seven months ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked as though they might be tough to beat in the Eastern Conference for years. Instead, it’s the Boston Bruins that are playing like a team that’s made for May and June.
Marc Savard scored a power-play goal, then set up Boston’s next two goals with excellent playmaking, and the streaking Bruins ran their longest winning streak in nearly 26 years to nine games by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 Tuesday night.
Savard had his usual big game against Pittsburgh, and Dennis Wideman had a goal and two assists, as the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins improved to 23-2-1 in their last 26 games, outscoring opponents 106-51.
Boston, which barely made the playoffs last season, hasn’t had a run like this since the Barry Pederson-and Ray Bourque-led 1982-83 team won nine in a row in January, tied one, then won their next five. These Bruins won five in a row, lost one, then have won their last nine – five on the road.
Tim Thomas stopped 32 shots for his seventh consecutive victory.
“We just want to win every game,” said defenceman Zdeno Chara, who scored Boston’s first goal. “The stats and the history is one thing, but playing every game the best we can is another thing. After each game we want to look forward instead of back on whatever the record is.”
The Penguins dominated the conference playoffs last season, losing only two games in three rounds, but are going in the opposite direction of Boston by losing four in a row at home and six of eight. The Penguins are 7-10-1 since beginning November by going 7-0-1.
Still, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby isn’t ready to concede Boston is the team to beat, even if the Bruins seem to be beating nearly every team they play.
“There’s not much separating each team, they’re disciplined in the way they play and capitalized on the chances they got, and that’s what good teams do,” Crosby said. “But it’s not a matter of them being way ahead of us.”
Except in the conference. With the Penguins slipping further down the standings, the players held a post-game meeting that none would comment about. Their coach did.
“First of all, it’s about time they had a meeting,” Michel Therrien said. “You have to show some leadership. If I were a player, I would have called a meeting. I’m interested to see what comes of this.”
Even the Penguins’ two biggest stars, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, aren’t contributing like usual. Malkin, the NHL’s leading scorer, was held without a point, took a penalty that led to Savard’s goal and committed a giveaway that set up Phil Kessel’s go-ahead goal and made it 3-2 at 16:43 of the second period.
Crosby had an assist in his 250th NHL game, but gave away the puck ahead of Martin St. Pierre’s short-handed goal at 5:28 of the third. That goal came with the Penguins pressing to tie it but instead allowed the Bruins to take a 4-2 lead.
St. Pierre’s goal was his first since Feb. 14, 2007, and the second of his career, both against Pittsburgh.
Savard has 10 goals and 31 assists in 30 games against the Penguins, whose 2-1 win at Boston on Oct. 20 is one of only two Bruins home losses. The teams play there again Thursday night.
Kessel’s 23rd goal came only 90 seconds after Pascal Dupuis tied it 2-2 for Pittsburgh. Malkin was attempting to make a short pass to Crosby when Kessel grabbed it, turned and shot. Savard gathered the rebound and made a cross-crease pass to Kessel, who beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from in close. Fleury faced 40 shots.
“I thought we stuck with it. I didn’t see that there were any soft moments or soft shifts,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said.
Wideman set up Boston’s first two goals, by Chara off P.J. Axelsson’s cross-ice pass on a power play early in the second, and Savard’s 12th goal, which made it 2-1. Wideman scored midway through the third, the Bruins’ third goal in slightly less than 13 minutes.
“I think, so far, we’ve been ready to play when we’re playing against really good teams. When we know we’re up against a tough task, we’ve responded real well,” Wideman said.
Notes: Boston was 2-for-8 on the power play. … Penguins C Jordan Staal (20 years, 111 days) became the youngest player to appear in 200 NHL games. … Pittsburgh is 8-8-2 at home. … Petr Sykora’s 13th goal put Pittsburgh up 1-0 with three minutes left in the first. … Penguins D Hal Gill returned after missing 10 games due to a shoulder injury. … Crosby has one power-play goal in 29 games; Malkin has none in 20.