Last season, the Bruins were the best third-period team in the league, but this collapse was the latest example of why that’s no longer true.
One day they’re resilient. The next they’re, well, the victims of a team who decided to be resilient. This was one of those collapses that you could just see coming from a mile away. Like I said after Monday night’s game in Ottawa: it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish and the Penguins simply wanted it more than the Bruins did in this battle of the Birds and the B’s. You can only leave the door open so many times before the cat sneaks out. Especially when the cat is the hottest team in hockey.
Two quick first-period goals looked to be plenty for Anton Khudobin, who was making his first career start against Pittsburgh, early on, but as time ticked away (not nearly fast enough) Bruins’ mistakes and the fact that they were outshot, 36-17, caught up with them to the tune of three goals allowed in the final 7:18. Khudobin looked like a No. 1 goaltender against the league’s No. 1 scoring offense for the first 52 minutes of the game, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time and making the big saves when he needed to.
Brandon Sutter scored twice in the third and buried the game-winner with 2:03 remaining in the third after Dennis Seidenberg made a way-too-careless clearing pass from his goal line. After just allowing two goals in a 51-second span, why would he try to force a pass through a lane that probably wouldn’t be open when it seemed he did not need to give the puck up yet? Unexplainable. Sutter buried the gift-wrapped opportunity.
“[In the] first 40, we were going at them on the forecheck, we were first on pucks and we were getting results,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We didn’t want to make any mistakes [in the third] and because of that, we did.” Spot on.
The Bruins opened up the scoring just 4:45 into the game on their first power play opportunity of the night. Zdeno Chara dumped the puck in deep from the neutral zone and Brad Marchand did what he does best by winning possession in the puck battle. He moved it to Rich Peverley, who quickly got it back to Seidenberg at the right point. Seidenberg shoveled it over to Chara, who was backing up when he fired the one-timer, but still got plenty on it to beat Marc-Andre Fleury. A Bergeron screen also helped the puck find the back of the net as all five Bruins figured in the scoring of the first goal. Assists went to Peverley and Seidenberg on Chara’s fifth of the year, but the third and fourth could have easily gone to Bergeron and Marchand for their work.
Continuing to win the tough battles and and apply heavy pressure, the B’s had two more good chances in the next couple minutes with Bergeron doing the work to set up a Marchand one-timer in the slot that was blockered away by Fleury for the first one. David Krejci also had a chance at an open net with Fleury out of position, but couldn’t control the bouncing puck just outside the right faceoff circle and it slipped away.
The second line would make up for the missed opportunity just three minutes later, however, with more great work in the offensive end. They got a couple of shots on goal to open up their shift and Tyler Seguin buried his ninth of the year moments later. Again, Bergeron won the puck battle on the original dump-in by Marchand and made a perfect pass to the middle for Seguin as he just continues to do the little things well. As he was being taken down, Seguin lifted the puck and stuck it just beneath the crossbar. Bergeron and Marchand got the assists on the goal that put the Bruins up 2-0 just 13:30 into the game. For Seguin, it was his sixth goal in his last seven games.
Seguin’s goal in the first looked to be a game-changer at the time.
After Boston dominated much of the first half of the period, the Penguins got a late push that resulted in some chances, but yielded no goals, though it would end up being huge for their momentum. One shot from the middle went just wide as Khudobin scurried to get back into position and another bid from the Sidney Crosby line nearly cut the lead in half. Khudobin robbed James Neal point blank with 2:36 remaining following a Boston turnover on the goal line. The late flurry helped Pittsburgh outshoot Boston, 10-5, in the first period, though they trailed by two goals.
Killing off the rest of an Andrew Ference delay-of-game penalty to open the second, the B’s kept up their strong defensive play and didn’t give much to the Pens early on. Khudobin made 12 more saves in the period, as the Pens’ shot advantage grew to 22-12, including a nifty one moving right-to-left early on to foil a 3-on-2 bid from Pittsburgh. He made another just after that as he fought through the traffic to get his body in front of the deflected shot from the point.
The Penguins kept the pressure on for the remainder of the period, but Khudobin was strong against the top-ranked scoring team in the league. It looked like a Pittsburg power play as Boston had trouble clearing the zone on multiple occasions. Seguin had the Bruins’ best chance of the period as he snuck behind the D and moved in on Fleury, but the former Olympian made the save to keep it 2-0.
It even seemed that the Bruins would find a way to survive after killing of a 5-on-3 to begin the third with two of their best penalty killers in Bergeron and Gregory Campbell in the box and already without Chris Kelly. Though they were ultimately able to kill it off, the Penguins looked like they could have scored at any moment, but apparently they were just trying to make things more dramatic. After calling their timeout with less than 30 seconds to go on the 5-on-3, Neal rung the post as the Penguins continued to tease the home crowd. This is when a lot of people watching, myself included, got that “sooner-or-later” sense that something was going to go horribly wrong.
Things got even dicier with less than 10 minutes to play as Chara saved the lead a couple of times with big clears of the puck out of harm’s way. Krejci helped get it out too – one of the few positives of the night for the first line – but eventually, it was all for not.
With 7:18 remaining in the game, Norris Trophy candidate, Kris Letang, rifled a cross-ice pass through some sticks to Chris Kunitz, who one-timed it to the back of the net. Khudobin got a piece of it, but just couldn’t get all the way across the crease fast enough to make the save. It slid under his arm and Pittsburgh had life – well, more life. Okay, 2-1. We still got this…
Shortly after, with Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic (the top trio for Boston) on the ice, things went from bad to worse. None of them were able to sustain enough pressure to keep the puck in the Pittsburgh end or get back in enough time to play defense. A 3-on-2 developed up ice with just the third defensive pair in Ference and Adam McQuaid back. A short little pass from Neal to Sutter and he beat Khudobin with a wrister that rang off the post. Again, you could see it coming when the first line was unable to keep the puck in the offensive zone. It is impossible to keep that Pittsburgh offense at bay forever. The pressure was there all game long and it was only a matter of time.
The Penguins celebrate the goal that capped a furious third-period comeback.
Sutter would add his second and the game-winner with just over two minutes remaining and the collapse was complete. Outhit, outshot and now outscored, the Bruins complacency cost them two important points and first place in the division as well as the conference with Montreal having the night off.
“I don’t know exactly how to explain it,” Bergeron said, “but it’s unacceptable.”
The team fired a season-low 16 shots on net in this one and though they accounted for one-quarter of them, the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line finished a collective minus-6 on the night. There’s no two ways about it; the fourth line will contribute every now and then, but the success or failure of the team has a lot to do with the first line and Tuesday night it was the failure.
The Bruins officially registered just four shots on goal in the third period. Pittsburgh had 12. Advantage Penguins. Khudobin did do a great job of keeping his team in it the whole time in a game that he wasn’t even supposed to start as Tuukka Rask reportedly came down with the flu. This was the sixth time this season that the Bruins have blown a two-goal lead in a game.
The Penguins have won six straight games and are now tied with the Canadiens for the most points in the Eastern Conference with 38. Boston fell to 11-1-1 this season when scoring first in a game and fell to 17-4-3 overall. They fell to 2-2 in the back end of back-to-backs this season.
The three stars of the game were Sutter, Kunitz and Chara.
The B’s will return home for a matchup with the Florida Panthers Thursday at 7 p.m. Pittsburgh (19-8-0) will head to Toronto to take on the Leafs the same night.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.