The Penguins threw 54 shots on goal, nearly matching the 56 shots they had in the first two games of this Eastern Conference Final series. The Penguins won more faceoffs, threw more hits, and committed fewer giveaways than the Bruins. They dominated long stretches of the most important game of their season Wednesday night.
And they lost.
Now a team that was 51 seconds away from having their season come to an end in Game 7 of the first round is one win away from its second Stanley Cup Final in three years -- and the same man is to thank for both of those scenarios coming to pass for the Bruins.
Patrice Bergeron's goal at 15:19 of the second overtime gave the Bruins a 2-1 win in Game 3 and a 3-0 stranglehold on the Eastern Conference Final. The Bruins could complete a series sweep with a win in Game 4 Friday night at TD Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"We found a way, I guess. That's the only way you've got to look at it," said Bergeron, a man who wears the battle scars of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey on his face like a badge of honor. "It wasn't necessarily our best effort in the first 60 [minutes], but I thought we re-grouped well in overtime and we had some really good chances in the first overtime. We kept battling and said that we have to find a way somehow.
"We did in the second overtime."
The winning goal came as the result of Bergeron and his linemate for the past three seasons, Brad Marchand, hooking up for another big goal -- just like they did in Game 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs and again three nights later in overtime of Game 1 against the New York Rangers.
"That's what happens when you've been together for three years, as a duo anyways," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "They've learned to play with each other extremely well."
With the two teams exhausted after nearly five full periods of hard-fought hockey, Jaromir Jagr beat Evgeni Malkin in a battle for the puck near the Penguins' bench. The puck popped out and Jagr fed Marchand to head into the Penguins zone. Marchand sent the puck toward the slot where Bergeron got inside position on defenseman Brooks Orpik and deflected it past Tomas Vokoun.
While Marchand and Bergeron will get the glory, it was a 41-year-old future Hall of Fame forward out-battling one of the best players in the world for a loose puck that made the winning goal happen.
"I think that guys have a lot of respect for who he was in the past, and I think now seeing how hard he pushes himself to be better and how he's not too good to develop into what we need him to be," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who had an outstanding defensive game. "Guys really respect that. A couple of huge plays that he made grinding it out on the wall won't make any of the highlight reels when he's inducted into the Hall of Fame, but those are huge plays that win hockey games for us."
This is the second year in a row the Penguins face a 3-0 series deficit. The Penguins went down 3-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the playoffs last year before dropping the series in six games. But in the Penguins' eyes, considering how well they played through the first three periods, they deserved much better than to be in this dire situation.
"The whole game we felt really comfortable with our play," said captain Sidney Crosby, who's still looking for his first point of the series. "We felt like it was just a matter of time before we were going to get it. Unfortunately we didn't, they hung around and got one at the end."
As difficult as it may appear to the Penguins right now that they can come back in the series, Crosby feels the model they used in Game 3 after being totally outclassed on home ice in Game 2 would be a good place to get a comeback started.
"We can't get three wins with one game," Crosby said. "We have to find a way to get back there and get back to that same level we had tonight, and hopefully capitalize on our chances. But I don't think there's too much we would change going into Game 4. If we can play the same game and put those pucks in the net, then we give ourselves a chance."
Rask made 53 of his 108 saves in the series Wednesday night while displaying the same steady, solid play in goal that creates a calming influence on the Bruins in front of him, knowing that he is back there to erase their mistakes when they happen.
"Tuukka's been our most consistent player all year long," center Chris Kelly said. "He just proved that again tonight coming up with some big saves when we really needed them."
Of Rask's 53 saves, 15 came in the two overtime periods and 13 came on the penalty kill, allowing Boston to go 6-for-6; the Bruins are a perfect 12-for-12 when down a man in the series.
"I think we're doing a good job of taking their time and space away," Kelly said. "Your best penalty killer needs to be your goalie, and Tuukka has been. He's been there when we've had some breakdowns and been there to make the saves."
David Krejci took over the League playoff lead with his ninth goal for the Bruins.
Vokoun bounced back from being pulled in Game 2 with a great performance, stopping 38 shots and providing exactly what Penguins coach Dan Bylsma wanted from him – a chance to win.
"We have lost the first three games and we're going to battle and lay it out there," Bylsma said. "We threw it at them tonight and didn't get the win. But it's a race to four and they're not there yet. We're going to come in here, regroup and go after Game 4."
For a second game in a row the Bruins scored on their first shot. But unlike Game 2, the Penguins did not allow it to get them off their game.
Once again it was Boston's top line that did the damage, with Milan Lucic starting the play by setting up Krejci behind the net and then driving to the front of the net himself. Lucic attracted three Penguins to him initially, allowing Krejci to patiently work the puck behind the net with no pressure. Krejci finally decided to walk out to the lower left circle, leading Matt Niskanen to leave Lucic and challenge the puck carrier -- but Krejci's pass for Lucic bounced off Niskanen instead and past Vokoun at 1:42 of the first period.
The Penguins did not wilt after what could have been a very discouraging goal and took it to the Bruins, but a number of quality saves by Rask allowed Boston to enter the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.
"We found a way, I guess. That's the only way you've got to look at it. It wasn't necessarily our best effort in the first 60 [minutes], but I thought we re-grouped well in overtime and we had some really good chances in the first overtime. We kept battling and said that we have to find a way somehow. We did in the second overtime."
-- Patrice Bergeron
Pittsburgh's persistence carried over into the second period, forcing the Bruins into taking two penalties in the opening five minutes and creating some momentum off the power play, though it was unable to produce -- largely once again because of Rask, who made five saves on the second power play.
The Penguins finally scored their second goal of the series at 8:51 of the second when Crosby beat Bergeron, the League's best faceoff man in the regular season, on an offensive-zone draw. The puck went to Pascal Dupuis, who sent it back to Paul Martin at the point. Martin carried the puck down the right side and began cutting towards the net when he found Kunitz alone on the opposite side of the slot, setting him up for a one-timer that beat Rask for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
The Bruins took yet another penalty, this time for having too many men on the ice, two minutes after the goal, but this time it created some momentum for Boston thanks to a courageous effort by Gregory Campbell. After blocking a Malkin shot high in the leg area, Campbell writhed in pain on the ice as the Penguins continued working the puck in the offensive zone.
Campbell finally managed to get up and, barely able to stand, managed to get in some passing and shooting lanes to disrupt the Penguins power play until Shawn Thornton left the penalty box, drawing a standing ovation as he limped to the bench and went straight to the dressing room. He did not return to the game, and Julien called it a "serious" injury. Multiple media outlets reported after the game that Campbell suffered a broken leg.
"That's the way he is," Bergeron said. "He sacrifices the body for the team, for the better of the team. We tried to rally behind that and do it for him because he's a big part of our team on and off the ice."
Malkin nearly gave the Penguins their first lead of the series just after the 16-minute mark of the second when he came off the bench, picked Dennis Seidenberg's pocket just inside the Bruins' blue line and came in on goal, but his tremendous deke attempt was stopped by Rask to maintain the tie score heading into the third period.
The score remained 1-1 through the final 20 minutes of regulation, but it wasn't for a lack of trying by a Penguins team that finally looked like the one that had averaged more than four goals per game in the playoffs entering the series. Pittsburgh peppered Rask with 14 shots compared with just four for the Bruins and hit two posts, one each by Crosby and Malkin.
The first overtime period featured end-to-end action with very few whistles, other than to call five penalties that resulted in three power plays, two for the Bruins and one for the Penguins.
Vokoun stopped Nathan Horton on a breakaway about 90 seconds in and Horton hit the goal post to Vokoun's left about six minutes later, while at the other end Rask stopped Craig Adams and Brandon Sutter in quick succession with about five minutes left in the period.
That set the stage for Bergeron to serve as the hero for the Bruins once again. But as a team with numerous members of a club that blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, the Bruins insist they will be ready for Game 4.
"They're a great team and we respect them," Bergeron said. "We've got to be in the moment. We can't get overexcited about having three wins, because you need four."
|Johnny Boychuk Interference against Brenden Morrow|
|Joe Vitale Roughing against Brad Marchand|
|Nathan Horton Holding against Brooks Orpik|
|David Krejci Roughing against Kris Letang|
|Adam McQuaid Boarding against Matt Cooke|
|Shawn Thornton Too many men/ice - bench|
|Jarome Iginla Tripping against Andrew Ference|
|Brad Marchand Kneeing against Chris Kunitz|
|Chris Kunitz Slashing against Brad Marchand|
|Douglas Murray Slashing against Rich Peverley|
|Pascal Dupuis Interference against Johnny Boychuk|
|1st OT Period|
|Milan Lucic Roughing against Matt Cooke|
|Matt Cooke Roughing against Milan Lucic|
|Chris Kelly Tripping against Beau Bennett|
|Brooks Orpik Hi-sticking against Brad Marchand|
|Evgeni Malkin Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|2nd OT Period|
|Tyler Seguin Too many men/ice - bench|