Pittsburgh spent four games last June futilely flailing away at Tuukka Rask as the Boston goalie shoved the Penguins out of the Eastern Conference finals one remarkable save at a time.
Any real chance at payback won’t come until the playoff. Still, Pittsburgh knows its taut 3-2 win over the Bruins on Wednesday night is a pretty good place to start laying the groundwork.
"They are a very good defensive team," Penguins forward Brandon Sutter said. "To get chances and capitalize on them is huge. That’s a big building block for us."
Sutter and Jussi Jokinen scored 6:58 apart in the third period and the Penguins held on. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 21 shots for Pittsburgh, including a sliding save on David Krejci just before the final horn. Chris Kunitz picked up his sixth goal of the season for the Penguins while Sidney Crosby’s assist pushed his points total to an NHL-high 21.
"We played the right way and we were the better team tonight," Jokinen said. "It kind of felt like a playoff game, a little bit those same matchups like last spring. Lots of hitting, lots of battles."
Battles the Penguins won. Then again, that’s what happens this time of year. Pittsburgh is 9-1 in its last 10 regular-season games against Boston.
Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla scored for the Bruins. Rask finished with 28 saves, but couldn’t stop Boston from dropping a road game for the first time this season.
"We didn’t play to our identity," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We didn’t play a heavy game for two periods tonight. We had to play three periods like we did in the third and that wasn’t the case."
The meeting between the teams was the first since Boston’s emphatic four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference finals, when the Bruins suffocated the NHL’s highest scoring team into submission. The Penguins scored only twice in nearly 14 periods of hockey and never led at any point, undone by Boston’s defense and a near flawless performance by Rask, who stopped 134 of 136 shots in the series.
Nearly five months later, little has changed.
"I think the intensity and the atmosphere, not quite sure it was April and May and June, but it was certainly a good night for a Wednesday night rivalry game in October," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.
Kunitz gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the second period when he collected a shot from teammate Kris Letang with his chest then backhanded by Rask with his back to the net. The power-play goal was the fifth given up by the Bruins in their last seven penalty kills.
Bergeron tied it 1:05 into the third period with a tricky deflection between his legs over Fleury’s shoulder.
The fun was just starting. Sutter took a pass from Pascal Dupuis and raced in on Rask, wristing a shot over the goalie’s shoulder for his first regular-season goal since April.
"He leaned on it and I went down and then he shot it," Rask said. "I told him good shot."
Jokinen followed with 3:02 remaining when he forced a turnover high in Boston’s zone and broke in on Rask, using a screen to whisk the puck past Rask’s stick for his sixth goal.
The Penguins ended up needing the cushion.
Iginla’s slap shot from the point zipped by Fleury with 1:43 left and Boston spent the final 90 seconds buzzing the Pittsburgh net but couldn’t tie it up.
"We didn’t give too many chances but we couldn’t stop them," Rask said. "That’s just about it. We’ve got to stop giving up these third-period goals."
The injury riddled Penguins have tweaked their formula a bit since June, trying to play a bit more responsibly on their end of the ice while still relying on Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to carry the offense.
Boston’s roster underwent a slightly more aggressive overhaul, including the signing of Iginla. He spent two months with the Penguins last spring in search of his first Stanley Cup title after more than 15 years in Calgary. He had five goals and six assists in 13 regular-season games with Pittsburgh and had four more goals in the playoffs but disappeared against the Bruins, though he was hardly alone.
Iginla’s return barely caused a stir. There was no video tribute or hand from the crowd. Only when he was knocked to the ice by Malkin and Kris Letang to end the first period — and again dropped by Malkin in the second — did a faint level of disapproval arise.
NOTES: Krejci’s points streak ended at seven … The Bruins host Anaheim on Thursday night. The Penguins are off until Friday night, when Columbus visits … The Penguins scratched injured D Rob Scuderi and injured Fs Chuck Kobasew and Matt D’Agostini … F Loui Eriksson and D Matt Bartkowski were scratched by the Bruins.