BOSTON – The Pittsburgh Penguins won a grudge match on the road in order to better their odds at earning the home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Sidney Crosby scored twice and added an assist as the Penguins defeated the Boston Bruins 5-3 at TD Garden on Tuesday night to move three points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Flyers lost to the New York Rangers, 5-3, two nights after their emotional victory in Pittsburgh. That game featured a high pace and several physical and verbal confrontations in the closing moments. But Crosby and his teammates were able to turn the page on that game and focus on the Bruins.
"I mean, it's important and it was a pretty emotional game so any time you play one like that you've got to really bear down and find a way to get up for the next one the same way," Crosby said. "It was probably a little slower than both teams would have liked out there -- a little bit choppy at times -- but we did some really good things. (Goaltender Brent Johnson) made some big saves for us, special teams were good, so we’ll build off of it knowing we have two more important games here before the playoffs."
The second of those two games will be a head-to-head showdown with the Flyers on Saturday.
The Bruins, who are locked into the second seed in the East after locking up the Northeast Division title over the weekend, failed to pick up a point in the standings for the first time in seven games. Still, they rallied from 2-0 down to tie the game in the second period before the Penguins grabbed the lead back and rode the momentum to the victory.
"Yeah, it was like we took back the momentum and played in the offensive zone and we had to work to get the deficit back to 2-2 and did a good job with that," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "It's just unfortunate that we get two men down and they are able to capitalize. It's just one of those games where we weren't getting many calls. We've just got to … you know, we're not a bunch of complainers. We're just going to play through it."
The game turned on a late-second-period 5-on-3 Pittsburgh earned. Benoit Pouliot had scored at 16:57 of the first period and Lucic had tied the game 18 seconds into the second after Boston was down 2-0. Daniel Paille was called for charging into Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen at 17:20 of the second. Niskanen left the game and Pens coach Dan Bylsma said there wouldn't be an update on him until Wednesday.
Just nine seconds later, Rich Peverley was whistled for high sticking Kris Letang. James Neal and Sidney Crosby cashed in over the course of the power play to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead heading into the third period.
Neal's goal was his 40th of the season.
"Yeah, it feels good. You know, things have been great being able to play with (Evgeni Malkin) and (Chris Kunitz)," Neal said. "It's been a lot of fun but, you know, we're focusing on ourselves here and we did a good job coming in here and playing against a tough Bruins team and, you know, fighting for that home-ice advantage."
Said Bylsma: "He certainly came in and has been a goal-scorer and been a winger on a line for our top centermen and power play. I think getting 40 was big for James. I'm really happy to see him get that one. It put an exclamation point on what kind of scorer he is for our team."
Johnson made just his second start since Feb. 21 and gave Pittsburgh No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury a rare night off. Johnson finished with 26 saves on 29 shots, including a big stop on a Tyler Seguin breakaway.
"Well, definitely this game felt a lot better than the previous one in Buffalo," Johnson said. "But there is still room for refinement in my game. Little things, I think talking to the D-men and our communication was great tonight. We had to kill some penalties and we did. It was really nice."
In addition to Niskanen, Pittsburgh forward Joe Vitale (hit in the face with a shot) and Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk (leg injury from a collision with Arron Asham) were injured in the game. There were no updated on either player.
Despite the win, the Penguins know that there are two more regular-season games to tighten up their game before the stakes are raised.
"So, there's going to be times when you don't do everything perfect but you need other things to kind of pick up the slack and I think we did a much better job of that," Crosby said. "We still have to focus on those things. We still made mistakes, but I think the effort and discipline to play the right way was a little bit more there."