Nine straight wins for Pittsburgh.
The Penguins moved into first place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 defeat of the Boston Bruins in a St. Patrick's Day matinee on Sunday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center.
Sidney Crosby and Joe Vitale scored for Pittsburgh, while goalie Tomas Vokoun played solid between the pipes and made 31 saves to get the win. Tyler Seguin scored Boston’s lone goal while Tuukka Rask made 16 saves in the loss.
"It’s been different guys who have stepped up every game," Crosby said when asked what's been working so well for the club over this nine-game winning streak. "Seeing 'Joey V' get a big one for us before the end of the first period and then 'Voky' playing the way he did today, it seems like it’s always different guys. That’s what you need in order to have success consistently. We’ve been getting that lately. Our depth is a big part of our success. We need to continue to show that."
Defenseman Kris Letang suffered a lower-body injury late in the first period and did not return in the game. Head coach Dan Bylsma said after the game that Letang will be further evaluated. With Letang out, the remaining five defensemen – Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, Mark Eaton and Deryk Engelland – had to adjust accordingly.
The Bruins are a tough enough team to deal with having a healthy group of defensemen. So losing one of your top blueliners – who averages over 25 minutes a night – and having to rotate five defensemen against them is a heavy burden, especially factoring in that this was Pittsburgh's second game in 24 hours. But the Penguins rose to the challenge, not allowing Boston to get on the board after Letang went down and holding the 2-1 lead despite the Bruins pressuring hard and having a lot of zone time during the final 40 minutes.
"It’s tough, especially against a team like this that comes so hard," Crosby said. "They forecheck hard, they’re physical. The D take a beating back there sometimes with some of the hits. So with five guys and dealing with that, they did an awesome job."
Martin absorbed the most minutes, surpassing the 30-minute mark. Brooks Orpik played 23:58 minutes and played the Bruins hard, finishing with seven hits and six blocked shots. Niskanen (23:43), Eaton (19:14) and Engelland (15:34) also stepped up with solid games despite having tired legs. Orpik said the key for their group was keeping it simple.
“It’s a lot different with (Letang) out," Orpik said. "He’s obviously our best puck mover. He eats up a lot of minutes. You don’t have other guys that are going to replace him. Other guys just have to step up and eat more minutes and probably play a more simple game. But regardless of who goes out I think everyone will get a little more ice time, but you don’t try to do anything differently. You try to do the best you can within your skill set.”
A lot has been made of the Sidney Crosby-Zdeno Chara matchup, and rightfully so. There’s a lot of attention placed on Crosby having to deal with a 6-foot-9 shadow in these games against Boston. But Chara doesn’t exactly have it easy marking the NHL’s best player and its leading scorer, and Crosby made it hard for him on Sunday afternoon.
With just over eight minutes left in the first, Crosby sprinted down the center lane and split Chara and defense partner Johnny Boychuk, getting a shot on net that Tuukka Rask managed to save.
Crosby got robbed there, but he had a TV timeout to regroup and he made up for it eight seconds later. His line had the Bruins scrambling, and Kunitz started the play when he won a battle with two Bruins sandwiched him on the boards behind the net. The puck went to the other side of the trapezoid, with Dupuis stripping Chara of the puck and giving it back to Kunitz who had drifted in front. He made a pass through traffic to Crosby, who ripped it into the open net.
"I think we just had a pretty good forecheck there," Crosby said. "'Kuni' and 'Duper' created a loose puck and I think it was Kuni that ended up finding me there off to the side. I had a lot of net to look at and it was a good way to start."
While sometimes it feels like the production of the Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis line alone is enough to carry the Penguins’ top-ranked offense, secondary scoring is critical and necessary.
With just 31.8 seconds left to play in the first period and the score tied 1-1, fourth-line center Joe Vitale tickled the twine to give the Penguins a lead heading into the first intermission. It stood as the game-winner, as the Penguins protected their lead throughout the final 40 minutes of play to get the 2-1 win.
“It’s exciting," Vitale said of breaking through. "It’s something I don’t pride myself on every night or else I don’t think I’d have a job here, but it feels good to be able to contribute. We have guys here who contribute every night, so to chip in a one-goal game like this, a big game against Boston, it’s pretty exciting.”
Orpik broke the puck out of his zone with a pass to Adams, who had space to line up a shot at Rask that the Bruins goalie misjudged and let off a big rebound as a result. Vitale picked up the loose puck and fired a shot while falling for his first goal in 38 games (his last tally came Feb. 26, 2012 vs. Columbus).
“That line was great for us," Orpik said. "That line, even when they’re not getting scoring chances, if they can forecheck the way they do and get hits on their defensemen like they do, that tires you out. I know going up against guys like that, it’s not fun to play against. And those guys did a great job and obviously got rewarded with a goal.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo