BOSTON – The revenge-minded Boston Bruins got in some early shots. The Pittsburgh Penguins connected on the ones that counted.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 17 saves for Pittsburgh’s first shutout of the season and the Penguins won 3-0 as the Bruins got little spark from their retaliation against Matt Cooke less than two minutes into the game Thursday night.
Shawn Thornton squared off with Cooke five seconds after the Penguin came on for his first shift. The anticipation of a fight had built since March 7, when Bruins centre Marc Savard was sidelined indefinitely after Cooke’s blindside hit caused a Grade 2 concussion in Pittsburgh.
“We expected it to be intense and emotional but we were prepared to play hockey,” Sidney Crosby said.
The Penguins scored once in each period – goals by Tyler Kennedy, Alex Ponikarovsky and Michael Rupp.
Boston coach Claude Julien said four or five of his players had the flu and had little energy but stressed that it wasn’t an excuse for the poor performance.
“We certainly defended our teammate (Savard) well,” Julien said, “but the other part of the game wasn’t there.”
Not even captain Zdeno Chara’s decision to fight Rupp at 11:43 of the second period could fire up his teammates, who are fighting for a playoff berth. They hold the eighth and final Eastern Conference spot with 74 points, three more than the Atlanta Thrashers and New York Rangers.
“At that point, we had nothing,” Chara said. “I really felt that was the right moment to bring some energy back, some emotion. We could use a little break so I just picked the time to do it.”
It didn’t work as the Bruins generated few chances before Ponikarovsky scored in the waning moments of the period.
“My teammates did great,” Fleury said. “They kept everybody on the outside and didn’t give them much. If there was a rebound, they were there to take it away.”
During the third period, fans who had urged the Bruins to keep going after Cooke began booing the home team. Cooke had not been penalized or suspended for knocking Savard to the ice as the Boston centre followed through on a shot.
“There was an anxiety and emotion going into this game that you can’t deny,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Cooke came on the ice just 1:53 into the game to loud boos.
“I think that was Shawn’s notice that I was on the ice,” Cooke said.
They brushed against each other in the faceoff circle to the left of the Penguins net, dropped their gloves and, in a brief exchange, traded punches before Cooke’s helmet fell off and he went to the ice.
“It’s my job. I know my job ,” Thornton said. “So it was addressed immediately and then it was out of the way.”
Each received a major penalty for fighting and Thornton also served a 10-minute misconduct for swinging after Cooke dropped to the ice.
After his penalty, Cooke skated back to his bench to more boos at 7:50 of the first period. Then, just 44 seconds later, Kennedy scored his 10th goal of the season when he lifted a shot from the right circle over goalie Tuukka Rask.
Ponikarovsky made it 2-0 with 15 seconds left in the second period when he redirected a shot by Kris Letang. And Rupp finished the scoring 5:14 into the third period when he skated alone up the right and beat Rask to the far side for his 13th goal.
Each team had just five shots in the first period, but the Penguins dominated the second. They outshot the Bruins 12-0 in the first six minutes of that period despite playing for the second consecutive night. They lost in New Jersey 5-2 on Wednesday.
“It is always tough to lose like that,” Fleury said, “and it was good we could play the next day and start all over again.”
NOTES: The Boston team that won the Stanley Cup in 1970 was honoured during an on-ice ceremony before the game. Bobby Orr and Johnny Bucyk, captain of that team, participated in a ceremonial puck drop between Chara and Crosby. … Pittsburgh’s last shutout in Boston came 42 years ago when Les Binkley beat the Bruins 1-0 in the Penguins’ first season. … Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference returned after missing eight games with a groin injury. … The Penguins had been the only team without a shutout this season.