BOSTON -- The Pittsburgh Penguins knew they could be stepping into a hornet's nest at TD Garden with the Bruins and their fans seeking revenge for Matt Cooke's hit on Marc Savard 11 days earlier that left the star center out indefinitely with a concussion.
But while they were prepared for anything, the defending Stanley Cup champs knew that their real objective was to leave with two points -- and that's exactly what they did, as Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 17 shots for the Penguins' first shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory over Boston on Thursday night.
Shawn Thornton and Cooke fought 1:58 into the game, with Thornton getting the better of the exchange. But the Penguins had much the better of things when the teams stuck to hockey, getting goals from Tyler Kennedy, Alex Ponikarovsky and Michael Rupp while muzzling the Bruins' attack
"We expected it would be intense and emotional but we came to play hockey," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We knew that they probably wanted to scrap with Cookie, and they did a good job of getting it out of the way and it was hockey as usual after that.
"More times than not these things get built up more than they should, but you never really know how it's going to turn out going into any game but yeah especially with the way this game was built up you wonder. But more often than not, it never does meet those expectations."
One night after the Penguins were beaten 5-2 in New Jersey, the win propelled Pittsburgh past the Devils, a 2-1 shootout loser at Toronto, back into first place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins, eighth in the East, remained three points ahead of the New York Rangers, a 4-3 loser to St. Louis, and are also now just three in front of Atlanta, which beat Ottawa 6-3. The Rangers come to TD Garden on Sunday for a nationally televised game.
The Thornton-Cooke bout and a second-period fight between Zdeno Chara and Rupp didn't ignite what was a rather flat Bruins team in front of a rocking sellout crowd on a night when the 1970 Cup championship team was honored in a pregame ceremony. The Bruins are now 14-14-6 on home ice, have won just once in Boston since beating the Flyers in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park on Jan. 1 and can't seem to find their game in their own building.
"I thought not just after those two fights, but I think throughout the game we didn't enough emotion or played the right way to earn a victory," Thornton said. "We have to find a way to start playing at home like we do on the road. We're a little too fancy, trying to do a little too much maybe and passing up on opportunities."
The Bruins were definitely passing up on opportunities -- they were outshot 20-10 through two periods and didn't register a shot in the final period until 9:18 had elapsed. After being dominated at New Jersey the previous night, the Penguins wanted to play smart hockey regardless of what happened with the hype surrounding the game.
"We didn't make big mistakes and I thought the last game against Jersey we did pretty well against them but the chances we gave them were breakaways and we didn't do that tonight," Crosby said. "We were pretty smart, we knew it was going to be physical and we were prepared from the bat to play a solid game."
Another objective was to wear down the Bruins defense, specifically Chara.
"We tried to wear them down and I thought as the game went on we did a pretty good job of that," Crosby said. "You got a guy like Chara out there playing a ton of minutes and it's not easy if he needs to keep going back for pucks and we played hard against him. So, he's a great defenseman and I thought we did a good job of wearing him down as the game went on."
The plan seemed to work from the start, and Kennedy took advantage of a tired Bruins defense by rushing down the wing and beating Tuukka Rask at 8:34 of the first period.
Chara, sensing his team need some sort of spark it apparently didn't get from the Thornton-Cooke fight, decided to take matters into his own hands midway through the second when he dropped the gloves with Rupp. But it didn't work and late in the second the Penguins seemed to steal whatever life the Bruins had left when Ponikarovsky made it 2-0 with 15 seconds remaining in the period.
The Penguins were in cruise control after that and Rupp's goal at 5:14 of the third period sent the boos down on the Bruins and fans heading for the exits.
Following the game, the Penguins could be heard cheering and celebrating in their dressing room while the Bruins were down the hall wondering when and how they will ever get the consistent emotion and intensity they need.
"I think everyone has to look themselves in the mirror and figure out what they have to do every night to win and we can't be happy with this result," Thornton said. "We know we can do it -- but we have to actually go do it every night."