Down 2-0 to the Boston Bruins, the top team in the Eastern Conference, with less than seven minutes remaining, the Pens turned to a center prone to coming through in clutch situations.
And no, it wasn’t Sidney Crosby.
Sutter netted two goals in the final 5:27, after Chris Kunitz potted a one-timer to pull Pittsburgh within one, to give the Penguins a detrimental 3-2 win over a team they will see again Sunday and very well might see again in the postseason.
After sending the crowd at CONSOL Energy Center into frenzy with his first goal, Sutter answered the bell again just over three minutes later when he stepped right into a pass from Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg near the Bruins’ blue line.
“It feels good to score,” Sutter said. “Especially when you’re down late, so it’s a big boost and I think for us to squeeze it out in the last few minutes is huge. Everyone wants to score goals, but I think we did a lot of good things right tonight.”
On the play, he had Crosby wide open to his right but instead threw it on the net himself and placed it perfectly right under goalie Anton Khudobin’s descending glove. Although he had the best player in the league crashing the net and it's always an instinct to give him the puck, Sutter's read on the play worked out perfectly fine. It definitely takes some confidence to take that shot over passing to Crosby tied at 2 with just over two minutes on the clock.
“I knew we had another forward kind of high, so I decided to take a chance on it and it just kind of happened to work out,” Sutter said. “Their D kind of went down and kind of put the pass away, so I just figured I might as well just try shooting.”
Now more than halfway through the season, it becomes more important for players like Sutter to step up and make plays when a guy like Crosby, whose eight-game point streak ended Tuesday, are held off the scoreboard, a sentiment Crosby endorsed.
It feels good to score. Especially when you’re down late, so it’s a big boost and I think for us to squeeze it out in the last few minutes is huge. Everyone wants to score goals, but I think we did a lot of good things right tonight. - Brandon Sutter
“The guy laid down and he made a great shot,” Crosby said. “I was waiting for it. I was happy to see it go into the back of the net. For Sutter to step up with two big ones for us, that’s huge for us.”
Pittsburgh is on a season-high six-game winning streak thanks in large part to those two goals. Coach Dan Bylsma said he made adjustments during the third to put Sutter in the best situation he could to help him produce.
“In terms of moving Sutter up to play with Beau Bennett and James Neal for a handful of shifts in the third period, it just felt like it was an opportunity and actually it was something we mentioned as a coaching staff, to get more jump,” Bylsma said.
Sutter’s performance in the last six minutes would have been special against any opponent, but against arguably the best defensive squad in the NHL on national television, the scenario was all the more bombastic.
“I think to get a couple there late is a good feeling especially against a team like that that’s pretty good defensively, so to get a few feels pretty good,” he said.
This hasn’t been a one-time occurrence for the 24-year-old center, as just 10 days ago against the Montreal Canadiens (another Northeast team that could be considered a measuring stick for Pittsburgh), Sutter made waves by potting two goals, including the overtime winner 52 seconds into the extra session.
The Penguins stand alone atop the Atlantic Division by a nine-point margin and are second behind Montreal in the conference standings, although both teams own 38 points. In a condensed season, Sutter said he understands how important it is to make the most of these match-ups.
“[The Bruins] are a good team,” Sutter said. “They’re the team to beat right now and it was a good finish to the game for us.”