For a while there, it appeared as if the Pittsburgh Penguins
were in danger of missing the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But a coaching change, combined with some key adjustments to the roster, have the Pens closing in on the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
scored twice and Petr Sykora
broke a 4-4 tie midway through the third period as the Pens rallied for a 6-4 win against the Boston Bruins
at Mellon Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The Penguins erased 3-2 and 2-1 deficits to beat the East-leading Bruins for only the second time in six games and moved ahead of idle Montreal into fifth place. Pittsburgh has earned at least a point in each of its last 10 games, going 8-0-2 during a run that began with a seven-game winning streak.
''It's a big time for us," said Pens captain Sidney Crosby
, who had three assists in the victory to extend his scoring streak to 10 games. "You see how tight the games are now, every team is desperate and battling hard.''
Kunitz, one of the aforementioned key acquisitions, was originally credited with a power-play goal 43 seconds into the third that tied it at 3, but Sergei Gonchar
was awarded the tally during a postgame review. It cost Kunitz what would have been his second career hat trick.
''I didn't hit the puck, the replay might look like that but I didn't hit the puck,'' Kunitz said. ''I'm not highly skilled with the puck. I just kind of go and get it and give it away, but the puck comes back to you (if a player works hard).''
Kunitz tallied his second goal of the game just 18 seconds later, when he took a pass from Bill Guerin
and beat Tim Thomas
on a breakaway. Kunitz has five goals in nine games since being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks
. His play is one of the many reasons why the new-look Penguins are within two points of Philadelphia for fourth in the East.
''They seem like a little different team, it seemed like they had a little more energy, a little more jump,'' Boston's Mark Stuart
said of Pittsburgh, which was in a 5-13 slide when it lost twice to Boston in successive games 2 1/2 months ago. ''And putting Billy Guerin with Crosby's playmaking abilities definitely adds another aspect to their offense. And then Kunitz with his speed.''
Boston grabbed a 3-2 lead when Blake Wheeler
scored shorthanded at 10:31 of the second period. But the Bruins were outscored 4-1 in the third period, as the Pens peppered Thomas with 13 shots. Wheeler put the wheels in motion when he was whistled for holding 28 seconds in, which led to Gonchar's power-play goal. Pittsburgh went 2-for-8 with the man advantage. Mark Recchi
and Phil Kessel
scored for the Bruins in the first period, as did Guerin and Kunitz for the Pens.
''You can't look at anybody but yourself,'' Wheeler said. ''Obviously there's calls you don't really like, but that's part of the game. We can't put them on the power play that much, and we did.''
Making only his second start since being acquired by the Edmonton Oilers
on Jan. 17, Mathieu Garon
made 21 saves for Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury
started the previous 19 games. Garon allowed a game-tying goal to Michael Ryder
2:54 into the third but Sykora restored the Pens' lead less than seven minutes later with his 24th goal of the season. Jordan Staal
added an empty-netter at 19:03.
"The first half of the game, maybe I was a little rusty," Garon said. "Towards the end, I was feeling a little better. I just wanted to go on the ice and get that first shot. The way we played, it made it easier on me."
The number of infractions called against the Bruins certainly didn't help their chances. Boston gets three days off before looking to get back on the right track at home Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings
''You can't win hockey games, especially against a team like this, when you take that many penalties,'' Boston coach Claude Julien
Material from wire services was used in this report.