Tim Thomas made 45 saves and the Boston penalty-killing unit snuffed out two lengthy Pittsburgh two-man advantages, as the defending Stanley Cup champions imposed their will on the Penguins Monday night at the CONSOL Energy Center, by a 3-1 score.
The Bruins have not lost in regulation since a 4-2 defeat on Oct. 29 at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. Since that time, they've gone on an incredible 14-0-1 run. The hot streak has brought Boston from the Eastern Conference cellar to within one point of Pittsburgh for the conference lead, and they hold three games in hand on the Pens.
It was a thoroughly frustrating night for the home team, as the Penguins generated 46 shots against Thomas, who improved his record on the season to 13-4-0 and ran his personal win streak to 10 games.
Early in the game, it appeared as though Boston had taken a 1-0 lead when Adam McQuaid's shot from the right point trickled through Penguins' netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. But the goal was waved off, as Bruins' forward Chris Kelly had made contact with Fleury in the crease.
Boston scored a goal in the opening stages of the second period that would count. Daniel Paille centered the puck from behind the Pittsburgh net, and Campbell was able to chip the rebound of his first shot past Fleury for his second of the season and a 1-0 lead at the 2:57 mark of the middle period.
Pittsburgh had a golden opportunity shortly after the goal, as Zdeno Chara was sent off for interference with Brad Marchand already in the box. The best chance on the 1:10 of two-man advantage time for the Penguins was Steve Sullivan briefly staring at an open net off a rebound, but Boston defender Dennis Seidenberg dove and poked the puck past Sullivan to save what would have been a sure goal.
Just over four minutes later, the Penguins turned the puck over to Rich Peverley in the neutral zone. Peverley led a rush as he carried the puck along the right wing, and Pouliot finished off the play with a wrist shot that beat Fleury over the glove hand side for his fourth of the year and a 2-0 Bruins' lead.
Pittsburgh would get another huge chance in the second stanza, as both Peverley and Pouliot were whistled for separate infractions at 16:06, giving the Pens a full two minutes with a two-man advantage. But the Penguins could not solve Thomas, who stopped all 17 Pittsburgh shots in the second.
The Bruins would get a power play opportunity of their own, as Jordan Staal was called for an interference minor at the 20:00 mark of the second period. On the ensuing man advantage in the third, Patrice Bergeron carried the puck through center ice and looked as if he would skate along the right wing boards. He made a quick cut to the inside and turned Pens' blueliner Matt Niskanen, then feathered a perfect feed to Seguin, who snapped a shot off the inside of the short side post and past Fleury for his 13th of the season just 1:07 into the third period to extend the Boston lead to 3-0.
Thomas' shutout bid would be ruined midway through the final period, as Joe Vitale stole the puck from Seidenberg at center ice, then began a foray into the Bruins' zone. He led a two-on-one rush and sent a picture perfect pass to Cooke, who sent the puck high over Thomas' outstretched blocker to bring Pittsburgh within two at 3-1 at 10:54. It was Cooke's sixth of the year and first in 12 games.
The Penguins also had a couple of scary moments involving two of their superstar players. Sidney Crosby, who had been roughed up a bit by the physical play of the Boston skaters, collided heavily with teammate Chris Kunitz at center ice. The two appeared to see each other at the very last moment, and when Kunitz attempted to jam on the brakes, lost his balance and fell into Crosby. The majority of the impact was to Crosby's right knee, and he stayed down for an elongated pause. He eventually got up very slowly and skated gingerly to the Pittsburgh bench, favoring the right leg on the way. Having played in just eight games since his return from post concussion syndrome, it was a frightening sight for the home fans.
Crosby described it as "just a 'stinger'," and "nothing serious" in a post-game interview.
A second incident occurred just minutes later, when Evgeni Malkin slipped past a pinching Chara at the Bruins' blue line and continued skating along the right wing boards. As he turned in towards the Boston net, he did not see Paille coming full speed right at him, and took Paille's protective face cage directly to the face. Malkin stayed down for several seconds and had a pretty good cut on his upper lip.
Both Crosby and Malkin returned to play late in regulation as the Penguins, who are missing two of their best defenseman in Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek with concussions, tried to get a goal that would not come.
Fleury's record dropped to 14-5-2 in suffering just his second regulation loss on home ice this year (8-2-1).