PITTSBURGH – The Boston Bruins are heading home two wins away from their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three seasons.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading to Boston in an attempt to salvage their season.
Brad Marchand scored 28 seconds into the game and again with 8.1 seconds to play in the first period to stake the Bruins to a 4-1 lead they would not relinquish as they defeated the Penguins 6-1 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final at Consol Energy Center on Monday night.
The Bruins lead the best-of-7 series 2-0 with Game 3 slated for Wednesday at TD Garden in Boston (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
A Penguins team that had been so dominant offensively throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs has scored just once in 120 minutes and looked downright disorganized and at times disinterested in Game 2, allowing the Bruins to freely enter their zone and repeatedly committing turnovers in the neutral zone.
The Bruins were all too happy to take advantage of the situation, scoring on their final three shots of the first period when Nathan Horton scored at 14:37 and David Krejci at 16:31 before Marchand capped the outburst.
Marchand’s second goal was scored on Marc-Andre Fleury on the first shot the Penguins' goalie had seen since he played in Game 4 of their first-round series against the New York Islanders on May 7. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma pulled Tomas Vokoun after Krejci’s goal gave the Bruins a 3-0 lead, but it was more an indictment of how the Penguins were playing than Vokoun, who could only perhaps be faulted for failing to control a rebound on Horton’s goal.
“We're obviously very happy with the outcome,” Marchand told NBC Sports Network. “We knew we were going to come in and it was going to be a very tough game; they're very fast, very skilled. I think we got a little lucky, Tuukka bailed us out in both games. We have to play a little better next game.”
At the other end, meanwhile, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask saw just 13 shots through two periods and finished his relatively easy night of work with 26 saves. A nasty Brandon Sutter snap shot with 33.2 seconds to play in the first period is the only shot that’s eluded Rask in the series thus far.
“He seems real comfortable right now. The puck seems big to him,” Boston coach Claude Julien said of his goaltender. “You’ve got to ride that goaltender when he’s like that.”
The Bruins' top line of Krejci, Horton and Milan Lucic had its second big game of the series, combining for two goals and two assists in the decisive first period alone and giving the Penguins fits with their strong cycle game in the offensive zone. The three players have combined for four goals and five assists in the first two games of the series.
The Bruins' second line had a strong night as well, with Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Jaromir Jagr combining for three goals and three assists. Jagr’s two assists snapped a six-game pointless streak for the 41-year-old right wing.
“We’ve been on that side, too – being down 2-0 after two home games and we came back,” Rask told NBC Sports Network. “We know what it feels like and we have to be really ready to play [Wednesday].”
While the Bruins’ best players held to the cliché by being their team’s best players, the Penguins’ best players were among their worst Monday.
Hart Trophy candidate Sidney Crosby committed a turnover that gave Marchand a breakaway for the game’s opening goal, one of several he would commit throughout the game. Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang’s turnover in his own zone led directly to Horton’s goal, and he was on the ice for four of Boston’s first five goals.
Crosby, Letang, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz and Jarome Iginla combined for 88 points in the first 11 games of the playoffs. They have combined for no points and a minus-25 rating in the past two games.
“I'm not going to look at just three players what they need to do and how they need to play,” Bylsma responded when asked about the play of Crosby, Malkin and Letang. “As a group, we need to be a lot better. We need to get to our foundation of how we play and play as a group, and we didn't do that. That includes every one of them -- all of us -- not just 87, 71 and 58.
“It's easy to look at one mistake or one play at the start of the game or to say that, but that's not an indication of the rest of the guys. We need to play a lot better than that. We need to get back to our game, back to our best, and that's not just one or two guys.”
The Penguins’ first shot of the game came at the 13-second mark of the first period, but they didn’t get another one for nine minutes as the Bruins did an effective job bottling them in their own zone and forcing a number of neutral zone turnovers to set up the counter attack.
The first of those counters came before the game was 30 seconds old, when a puck bounced to Crosby at the right point and he was unable to control it as he attempted an ill-advised pass to Matt Niskanen at the opposite point. The puck hopped over his stick and Marchand was away on a breakaway, beating Vokoun high to the glove side to give the Bruins an early 1-0 lead.
Letang’s turnover onto the stick of Torey Krug allowed the Bruins' rookie defenseman to attempt a shot on goal that Horton got a stick on, making the puck bounce and creating a rebound that he managed to slice into the net at 14:37 for his second goal in as many games to make the score 2-0.
“We've shown in the past we can bounce back,” Crosby said. “It's not a good feeling, but we realize that hanging our heads isn't going to fix anything.”
Krejci’s goal on Boston’s next shot was a thing of beauty, with Lucic entering the Penguins' zone and leaving a drop pass through his legs for Horton, who immediately fed Krejci for a one-timer that left Vokoun with no chance, but which nonetheless ended his evening of work at 16:31 of the first after allowing three goals on 12 shots.
Sutter’s second goal of the playoffs brought some life back into Consol Energy Center, but it was sucked right back out 15 seconds later when Marchand scored his second of the game.
Despite trailing 4-1, the Penguins have enough firepower to believe they could come back with 40 minutes remaining in the game. However, they came out for the second period looking lifeless and defeated, failing to apply consistent pressure on the Bruins and making their job of protecting a three-goal lead relatively easy.
Then, just 27 seconds into the third period, Jagr set Bergeron up for a back-door one-timer that Fleury had no chance on for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
That led a large number of Penguins fans heading for the exits and by the time Johnny Boychuk scored at 18:36 only a sparse crowd remained -- left to wonder if this would be the last time they would see their Penguins on home ice this season.
“We’ve got to restart after that game and that performance," Bylsma said. “We made some mistakes that allowed them to get up in the score. We got off our game plan, got off our game by trying to find some offense in the second half of the game. We got away from playing the way we need to play. I think the biggest thing is our attitude. That was a big adjustment for our team earlier in the season and that’s what it’s going to have to be. We reset, now we get refocused and now we go into Boston.”