For 52:08, the Penguins’ league-leading offense was silenced, stifled and smothered. The Boston Bruins, one of the Eastern Conference’s stingiest teams, shut down the powerhouse Penguins on their home ice, silencing the sellout crowd and sending several fans to the exits early.
It had been a frustrating night. After averaging over five goals per game in their previous five contests, the Penguins couldn’t crack rookie netminder Anton Khudobin. The Penguins’ typically brilliant power play had been suffocated by the Bruins' relentless penalty killing, led by Zdeno Chara.
Chara had also spent the first two-and-a-half periods harrying Sidney Crosby, bodying up on the superstar at every opportunity and limiting his chances to distribute the puck.
After the Penguins had failed to capitalize on 55 seconds of a five-on-three early in the third period—despite several great chances and one Kris Letang shot off-the-post—it seemed like the Penguins had run out of chances.
But the Penguins forged ahead, continuing to skate hard and working along the boards to win battles. In the first two periods the Bruins were able to fend off the Penguins' forecheck and clog up the neutral zone, thus rendering the Penguins speedy north-south style of play fruitless. As the third period wore on, though, the Bruins started to show signs of wearing down, having played three periods and a five-minute overtime frame the night before against the Senators. The Penguins kept skating, kept attacking, kept hitting.
As time bled away, the Bruins slowly began cracking.
To a man, the Bruins insist their late-game meltdown had little to do with fatigue and more to do with getting away from their game.
Said Patrice Bergeron on the subject: "No, I think it was the energy, was more the way we approached the third period," he continued. "We sat back."
Milan Lucic echoed Bergeron: "I think once the adrenaline starts pumping you forget that you played last night [...] It was just some smart plays that we could've made that we didn't and it ended up costing us."
Dennis Seidenberg, your thoughts?: “No, I don't think [fatigue factored into the loss] [...] "We just have to be smarter, mistakes like that can't happen, just got to be sharper. That's all there is to it."
Despite this, one wonders if the mistakes the Bruins made, such as not playing their gaps in the neutral zone or making boneheaded passes in their own end, are not attributable to both mental and physical fatigue.
Whatever the cause, the Penguins pounced.
At 13:42 of the final frame Chris Kunitz scored his 18th goal of the season, injecting life into the CONSOL Energy Center crowd and igniting the Penguins’ offense.
Slightly over one minute later, after winning a battle in the neutral zone (something the Penguins hadn’t done with any regularity up to that point), Brandon Sutter buried the tying goal. Boston goaltender Anton Khudobin had cracked like an egg, and it wouldn’t have been crazy for Boston coach Claude Julien to put in Tuukka Rask.
Julien opted to stick with Khudobin, and Sutter once more entered Khudobin’s nightmares.
After an inexplicable pass across ice from his own goal-line to his own blue-line, Dennis Seidenberg found himself on the wrong end of a two-on-one with Sidney Crosby all alone on his goaltender’s doorstep. Everyone in the building expected Sutter to go down low to Crosby, but Sutter stepped up.
Khudobin overcommitted to the near side, and Sutter ripped the puck high glove to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.
In a game that was considered by many to be a potential preview of the Eastern Conference finals, the Penguins got the better of the Bruins. And while it’s a win the Penguins should relish, it’s difficult to put too much stock into a game that featured the Bruins playing the second night of a back-to-back, starting their backup goaltender, and a Penguins team sans Evgeni Malkin.
That said, should these two teams meet in the playoffs, this game will undoubtedly be a game the Penguins will remember. And, more importantly, it is a game the Bruins won’t be able to forget.