|Note: image 1/10,000th of actual size|
The Pittsburgh Penguins squared off against the Boston Bruins for the third time this season on Saturday. The afternoon tilt was the latest installment in what's become a yearly St. Patrick's Day tradition for the Penguins and the Steel City.
(Note: in Pittsburgh, St. Patty's Day celebrations do not fall on the actual St. Patty's Day)
The two teams had previously split identical 3-2 OT decisions, with the Pens emerging victorious back on November 24th, while the Bruins earned victory on January 7th.
Boston, of course, swept the Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals and still employs the services of Zdeno "Big Bird" Chara and Brad "King of the Slewfoots (Slewfeet?)" Marchand.
For the Penguins, Christian Ehrhoff returned to the ice following his recurrence of concussion symptoms while Sidney Crosby was a Vladimir Putin-esque mystery scratch despite participating in the pregame skate.
Both teams have division title aspirations, and both squads were in the midst of impressive 10 game stretches of play. Thomas Greiss got the start between the pipes for the Penguins, who once again donned their popular third jerseys.
First Period Action:
In addition to Craig Adams replacing Sidney Crosby in the lineup (not much of a drop off, right?), Evgeni Malkin hobbled off following an awkward hit by Boston's Chris Kelly.
On a day that's supposed to celebrate the luck of the Irish, Geno's Russian heritage was definitely working against him as the Penguins' center hobbled off, albeit mostly under his own power.
Moments later, the two teams started their own St. Patty's Day parade (...to the locker room) in earnest as Penguin playoff legend Max Talbot hobbled down the runway following a painful shot block.
So, if you were scoring at home (and I know you were!), that's no Crosby, no Malkin, no Talbot, all within the first five minutes of the game. Ugh.
On the plus side, Chris Kunitz kneed a Bruins' player in the balls. Wasn't quite the same artistry level as Milan Lucic's famed nut shots, but still worthy of a mention.
Speaking of "ugh" and of "Lucic", Shrek would put the Bruins up 1-0 when his shot from the high slot knuckled past a screened Greiss. For Boston, it was the 11th straight game in which they scored first.
The two teams would trade power-play chances, as the Penguins modified PP unit had excellent puck movement but failed to slip the Spockinized rubber (...get it?) past Tuuka Rask.
Similarly, the Bruins couldn't add to their lead when David Perron was whistled for tripping.
In the first period, the Pens employed a Dick Cheney offensive strategy and were shooting wildly at every opportunity. The Bruins took note and answered Pittsburgh with the hockey equivalent of a redneck wedding, spending the game's first 20 minutes peppering Thomas Greiss with shots.
A late penalty on Loui Eriksson (spelling note: apparently all Scandinavian names end in "S-S-O-N") gave Pittsburgh a man-advantage that would extend into the opening of the second period.
Shots in the first stanza were 14-12 in favor of the Bruins, with Boston leading 1-0 in goals and the two teams tied in apparent injuries, 2-2 (Patrice Bergeron was a little worse for wear following an interference/knee hit).
Second Period Action:
Evgeni Malkin did not come out of the locker room following intermission, so despite starting starting the period with the man-advantage, Pittsburgh was effectively two players down because of injury.
Even so, the Penguins nearly converted on the power-play (off the rush no less), but Tuuka Rask made a key save. Rask would then surrender a brutal rebound into the slot, and while Nick Spaling's shot beat him clean, the puck struck the post and ricocheted harmlessly into the corner.
Noted Pittsburgh killer Patrice Bergeron nearly made it 2-0 after being set up in the slot, but Greiss managed to shrug off the scoring chance.
Patric Hornqvist was then sent off for interference after #72 did his best Billy Joel impression and crashed into Rask.
The Bruins' power-play was uninspired, and the Penguins actually enjoyed the edge in possession play, but the Pens could not generate any shots on the Boston net as the B's defenders continually kept Pittsburgh's skaters to the periphery.
In fact, the Boston defensive emphasis on keeping the Penguins out of the middle lane was clearly the game's chess match, as Pittsburgh crashed the net following every shot on goal. The Bruins' ability to clear the zone and negate the dump and chase kept the flow of the game moving back and forth
|No, no, not THAT Bernie...actually, sure, he works too.|
Chris Kelly then gave Pittsburgh yet another power-play following a high stick on Christian Ehrhoff. Following a Chris Kunitz faceoff win, the Pens created two quality scoring chances but Rask turned aside both.
The makeshift PP unit couldn't manage much outside of offensive zone time, so another opportunity went by the wayside.
The second horn sounded with the two teams embroiled in a neutral zone battle. Boston's 1-0 lead persisted despite Pittsburgh out-hitting the Bruins by nearly a 2-to-1 margin and an even shot distribution of 22 apiece.
Third Period Action:
Boston came out for the third period and carried play, snapping several early shots on Thomas Greiss.
The Penguins' fourth line would counter with a quality scoring chance, with a deflected Ehrhoff slapper being smothered by Rask.
Pittsburgh continued to chip the puck past the Boston defenders with a clear intention of wearing down the opposing blueliners.
Ben Lovejoy screwed up twice in rapid succession, whiffing like Pedro Alvarez on a puck along the boards in the offensive zone and then taking a penalty out of frustration to put the visiting team back on the power-play.
How dire were things for the Pens? TV Color Man Bob Errey actually opined that "...perhaps it was [Brandon] Sutter time."
Really? Brandon Sutter scores twice and now he's the Obi Wan Kenobi of the Penguins' offense?
Greiss kept Shrek off the board for the second time when he kept his paddle down on the ice and protected the five-hole following a point-blank scoring chance.
At the other end of the ice, Rask would then rob Ian Cole of a goal when Tuuka took a wild swipe at Cole's deflected slapper and made the glove save.
(for the record, without Crosby and Malkin, this game was about as exciting as a Latin Mass)
The Bruins conjured their inner Derek Bell and put the game into "Operation Shutdown" with about six minutes left to go in the third. The Penguins refused to cross the blue line with possession, and their fore-checkers were incapable of retrieving the puck to establish a scoring chance.
Right on cue, Brandon "Savior" Sutter and Chris Kunitz created a mini 2-on-1 from in tight on Rask, but Sutter's centering pass eluded the snake-bitten stick of Kunitz, and Boston escaped without even a shot on net.
As play progressed, the Penguins' shots hit more sticks than Steve Buscemi did when falling through the Ugly Tree.
Beau Bennett, whose offensive game will make a cameo as Wonder Woman's plane, was part of a late charge that saw a solid Steve Downie effort and slapper stopped by Rask.
The Penguins would pull Greiss with about 1:30 left, and the aforementioned Downie was rewarded for his play by being the extra attacker. A loose puck trickled just to the left of the Boston netminder, and that shot would be Pittsburgh's last scoring chance.
Unfortunately, Big Bird would throw the puck down the length of the ice and into the open twine to give Boston a 2-0 lead with just 37 left.
Rask would notch the shutout, and the Pens would head into the locker room to lick their wounds as they have yet another afternoon game tomorrow afternoon.
Final score: Bruins 2, Pens 0.
Updates on Crosby and Malkin will be posted as they're made available by the team.
**PENGUINS HEAD COACH SAID THAT SIDNEY CROSBY FELT ILL PRIOR TO THE GAME, AND THAT BOTH #87 AND #71 MAY BE ABLE TO PLAY IN TOMORROW'S GAME**