PITTSBURGH – Chris Kunitz lost a goal and a hat trick he insists he didn’t deserve. The two points? Kunitz and captain Sidney Crosby believe the Pittsburgh Penguins very much earned both of those.
Sergei Gonchar and Kunitz scored 18 seconds apart early in the third period, Petr Sykora got the game-winner later in the period and the Penguins gained a valuable victory in the Eastern Conference race, beating Boston 6-4 on Sunday.
The Penguins rallied from deficits of 3-2 and 2-1 to beat the conference-leading Bruins for only the second time in six games and moved ahead of idle Montreal into fifth place in the crowded standings. The Penguins picked up at least one point for the 10th consecutive game, going 8-0-2 during a run that began with a seven-game winning streak.
Not long ago, it looked as if the then-slumping Penguins might miss the playoffs after they came within two wins of raising the Stanley Cup last spring.
This current streak interests Crosby, not his own scoring run. Crosby had three assists to reach the 90-point mark and has at least one point in 10 consecutive games.
“It’s not something on my mind right now, I’m trying to do my best and help with this last push here,” Crosby said. “It’s a big time for us. You see how tight the games are now, every team is desperate and battling hard.”
Each of the Penguins’ last five games has been decided by a goal, with the previous four going to shootouts.
Kunitz was originally credited with a power-play goal 43 seconds into the third that tied it at three, but Gonchar was given the goal during a post-game review. Kunitz lost what would have been his second career hat trick because of the change.
“I didn’t hit the puck, the replay might look like that but I didn’t hit the puck,” Kunitz said. “I’m not highly skilled with the puck. I just kind of go and get it and give it away, but the puck comes back to you (if a player works hard).”
He certainly touched it seconds later. Kunitz got loose on a short breakaway off Bill Guerin’s pass and beat Tim Thomas by shifting from his forehand to his backhand before slipping the puck between the goalie’s pads.
Kunitz’s 21st goal was his fifth in nine games since being dealt by Anaheim at the trading deadline, although he didn’t have a goal in his previous five games.
“They seem like a little different team, it seemed like they had a little more energy, a little more jump,” Boston’s Mark Stuart said of Pittsburgh, which was in a 5-13 slide when it lost twice to Boston in successive game 2 1/2 months ago. “And putting Billy Guerin with Crosby’s playmaking abilities definitely adds another aspect to their offence. And then Kunitz with his speed.”
Not long after Kunitz’s second goal, Michael Ryder tied it at four for Boston, which was trying to become the first NHL team to reach the 100-point mark this season.
Sykora put Pittsburgh back into the lead with his 24th midway through the third, 13 seconds after Boston killed off a Penguins power play that included 17 seconds with a two-man advantage.
Jordan Staal shed a defender with a spin move in the corner and threw the puck to Sykora for a quick wrist shot from the left circle. Sykora was playing his second game after missing three games with an injured shoulder. Staal added an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Phil Kessel scored his 31st goal and fourth in three games and former Penguins player Mark Recchi and Blake Wheeler also scored for the Bruins. Wheeler’s short-handed goal in the second briefly put them up 3-2.
However, Wheeler’s holding penalty 28 seconds into the third created the power play that led to the first of two Kunitz’s goals in the opening 1:01 of the period.
“You can’t look at anybody but yourself,” Wheeler said. “Obviously there’s calls you don’t really like, but that’s part of the game. We can’t put them on the power play that much (the Penguins were 2-for-8), and we did.”
Boston coach Claude Julien said several penalties were “poor calls,” but added, “You can’t win hockey games, especially against a team like this, when you take that many penalties.”
Guerin scored 50 seconds into the game, his second goal since being dealt to Pittsburgh. Recchi answered 16 seconds later by beating Mathieu Garon with a one-timer from just inside the blue-line as the Bruins scored on their first shot for the second day in a row. They scored on their first two shots of a 2-1 victory over the Islanders on Saturday.
Garon made 21 saves in only his second start since being traded to Pittsburgh on Jan. 17. Marc-Andre Fleury started the previous 19 games.
Notes: Crosby has four goals and 17 assists in 13 games against Boston. … Five years after having the NHL’s worst attendance, the Penguins played before their 100th consecutive sellout crowd. The streak began Feb. 14, 2007. … Penguins executive Eddie Johnston was honoured before the game in recognition of his 25th season with the club. He has been their coach, general manager, assistant general manager and, in his current role, senior adviser.