PITTSBURGH — Postseason scoring leader David Krejci scored twice and goalie Tuukka Rask was superb, stopping 29 shots while stifling Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense as the Bruins succeeded in doing what many thought they would try to do: force the Penguins to lose their discipline and composure.
The Pens, frustrated early by Rask and his goalposts, unraveled with sloppy play. Sidney Crosby took two penalties, Matt Cooke was ejected in the second period for nailing Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid in the back and sending him into the boards, and Evgeni Malkin wound up in a fight. The end result was a 3-0 win for Boston in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Finals series, the first time the Pens have been shut out since Toronto’s James Reimer made 25 saves in a 1-0 win on Feb. 1, 2012. The last time the Pens were blanked in a playoff game on home ice was on April 27, 2011 when Tampa Bay’s Dwayne Roloson eliminated them with a 36-save, 1-0 win in Game 7 of their first round series. The Penguins had scored three or more goals in all six of their previous postseason home games, with a total of 26 during that span.
For all their skills, the Penguins do a poor job away from the puck, and most of all, both teams now know that the Bruins can win the series. Clearly, the Pens are going to have to pull themselves together, as they were forced to do in their opening round against the Islanders. The main concern now, though, is that backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun, such a settling influence in that series and against Ottawa, looked shaky tonight and ignited talk that Marc-Andre Fleury may have to be reinstalled between the pipes. If that happens, it will be a huge x-factor in this series.
Here are some more thoughts and observations from Game 1:
• The Penguins came out flying with a big first shift when Rask had to stop a Crosby backhander 20 seconds into the game. Kris Letang nailed Boston’s Brad Marchand with a solid bodycheck. Marchand returned the favor on the next shift by slew-footing Letang and escaping without a penalty. Rask made two other big saves on Pittsburgh’s first power play, stopping Evgeni Malkin’s backhander and then Crosby’s rebound from point-blank range in the slot after Boston’s Daniel Paille lost an edge and fell down. Rask’s finest moment was perhaps the dynamite save he made on Crosby with 11 minutes to play and Boston leading 3-0. Rask denied Kris Kunitz at the doorstep and the rebound rolled to the goalie’s left. Crosby had a yawning net to shoot at, but the goalie stretched out and barely blocked the shot. “When Tuuk’s playing like that,” Bs forward Nathan Horton said after the game. “You could see it from the first period. If we could just get one or two, we were in good shape to win.”
• The Bruins broke on top, 1-0, when David Krejci drove a 40-footer that squirted through Tomas Vokoun’s five hole 8:23 into the first period. On the play, Penguins defenseman Paul Martin went down way too early — and too close to his goaltender — while trying to block the shot. This allowed Krejci time to step into the shot and also gave him a ready-made screen in front of Vokoun.
• Poor play by a pair of Penguins defensemen led to Boston’s second goal. The Bruins outworked the Pens along the boards at Pittsburgh’s end of the rink, as Horton shoved Paul Martin off the puck. Horton then got it to Krejci, who wristed a shot that Vokoun deflected into the air. Letang tried to play the puck by batting it out of harm’s way. Instead he whiffed, and the puck landed in the crease where Krejci banged the rebound behind Vokoun from the doorstep to give Boston a 2-0 lead.
• File this one under “with-teammates-like-you.” Crosby was all set to collect a perfect lead pass for a first-period breakaway, but instead Malkin picked it off 15 feet before it could get to him. Crosby then slid over Boston’s blue line and banged his stick on the ice in frustration.
• There was an insanely close call for Boston in the closing seconds of the first period, when Malkin collected a bank shot off the boards, pulled the puck to his backhand and flipped a backhand off Rask that barely rolled wide of the goal seconds before the buzzer sounded.
• Close call No. 2 took place midway through the second period with the Penguins on the power play. Malkin shot from the point and Rask kicked it out with his right pad. Chris Kunitz then zinged the rebound off the post. (On the same power play, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron had the puck roll off his stick, trying to convert a two-on-nothing shorthanded chance.)
• Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke was expected to be something of a marked man in this series after having ended the career of Boston’s Marc Savard with a head shot in 2010. On Saturday night, Cooke did nothing to defuse tensions with his hit from behind on Adam McQuaid that drew a major penalty and game misconduct early in the second period.
• Here’s a recap of the melee at the end of the second period. Crosby threw a weak slap at Rask as he was skating off the ice. Zdeno Chara came in to yap at Crosby. Letang, an underrated fighter, stepped in and started pushing Chara. As this was happening, Malkin and Bergeron dropped the gloves. Malkin got in the only real shot, on top of Bergeron’s head as his jersey was pulled over his face.
• Throughout the game, the Penguins were simply horrible away from the puck. This was never truer than on Boston’s third goal, when all five Penguins skated away from the left side of the slot, apparently mesmerized by Gregory Campbell, and leaving Horton completely alone in front of Vokoun. Horton cashed in an easy rebound. He was the only Bruin on ice for all three goals in the game. Milan Lucic, Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Krejci were +2. Jarome Iginla, James Neal, Letang and Crosby were -2 for Pittsburgh. “It’s one game,” said Vokoun. “We lost this one fair and square. They were better. We know we’ll bounce back.”
• Boston played a much smarter, effective 60 minutes in Game 1 and dominated the face-off dots, winning 32 draws and losing only 16. The Bruins led the league this year with a 56.4 percent success rating, the second straight season that the Bs have been the top-ranked team in that department.
• This was the 18th playoff game between the two teams that was decided in regulation time. Only two of those prior meetings had gone to overtime. The Penguins beat the Bruins by a single goal in all three of their regular-season meetings this year. Two of those wins took place during Pittsburgh’s 15-game win streak. The Bruins outshot the Penguins, 88-76, in those contests.
• Pittsburgh and Boston have previously met four times in their’ postseason history. Boston won the first two series, in 1979 and 1980, but in 1991 and 1992, the Pens defeated the Bruins on their way to winning the Stanley Cup each year during the era of Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux. After Boston beat Pittsburgh in the first two games of the series in ’91, the Penguins won their next eight straight playoff game against the B’s, a streak that stood until Saturday night.
• Jagr has had good postseason success in the past against the Penguins while playing for other teams. In two previous series — 2008 with the Rangers and 2012 with the Flyers — he posted 14 points in 11 playoff games. Jagr remains the Penguins’ all-time leader in playoff games-played with 140. Tonight, though, he took four shots for the B’s and failed to get on the scoresheet.