The Boston Bruins are officially heading to the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs after securing a, 2-1, win against the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.
Erik Haula’s first period goal proved to be the game-winner, while Jeremy Swayman (21-12-3, 2.34 goals-against average, .917 save percentage in 37 games played) had a quality start with 23 saves in 24 shots faced en route to the victory for Boston.
Pittsburgh netminder, Casey DeSmith (8-5-5, 2.89 goals-against average, .907 save percentage in 22 games played) turned aside 27 out of 29 shots against in the loss.
The Penguins were without their usual starting goaltender, Tristan Jarry– who is out week-to-week with a lower body injury– and center, Evgeni Malkin, who is serving a four-game suspension for cross-checking Nashville Predators defender, Mark Borowiecki, in last Sunday’s, 3-2, overtime win at PPG Paints Arena.
Pittsburgh fell to 43-23-11 (97 points) on the season, but the Pens are still in command of 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division as they are currently five points ahead of the Washington Capitals (41-23-10, 92 points).
The Penguins clinched a playoff spot after Thursday night’s, 6-3, win against the New York Islanders.
Boston improved to 46-24-5 (97 points) overall and clinched their sixth-consecutive Stanley Cup playoff berth (75th overall in 98 seasons) as a result of Saturday’s win.
The Bruins are in command of the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and trail the Toronto Maple Leafs (48-20-6, 102 points) by five points for home ice in at least the 2022 First Round, as well as the Tampa Bay Lightning (45-21-8, 98 points) by one point for a divisional playoff spot.
Boston has played in 75 games this season, while Toronto and Tampa have each played in 74 games at the time of this writing (both teams are in action Saturday night as the Leafs visit the Ottawa Senators, while the Lightning host the Winnipeg Jets).
The B’s improved to 1-1-0 against Pittsburgh this season with one game remaining in their regular season series Thursday night (April 21st) at PPG Paints Arena.
Boston went 5-3-0 against the Penguins last season and 2-1-0 in 2019-20.
The Bruins were without the services of Jakub Zboril (right ACL), David Pastrnak (undisclosed), Hampus Lindholm (lower body) and Linus Ullmark (upper body) on Saturday, while Brandon Carlo returned to action from an undisclosed injury sustained on April 12th against St. Louis.
Bruce Cassidy made a few changes to his lineup as a result.
The only chance among forwards involved replacing Tomáš Nosek with Trent Frederic on the third line left wing. Frederic had been a healthy scratch in Thursday night’s, 3-2, loss to the Senators.
Nosek served as a healthy scratch Saturday as a result.
On defense, Matt Grzelcyk suited up alongside Charlie McAvoy on the first pairing, while Mike Reilly and Carlo rounded out the top-four defenders.
Derek Forbort participated in his 400th career NHL game on the third pairing alongside Connor Clifton.
With Ullmark out of the lineup due to an injury, Troy Grosenick was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Friday to serve as Swayman’s backup against Pittsburgh.
Cassidy told reporters prior to the game that Ullmark will be out until at least Monday, while Pastrnak and Lindholm skated on their own prior to the matchup with the Penguins (not in warmup).
Jack Studnicka, Josh Brown, Jack Ahcan and Anton Blidh joined Nosek on the list of healthy scratches for the B’s on Saturday.
Less than a minute into the opening frame, Craig Smith sent a shot off of DeSmith’s right shoulder that rebounded to the slot where Frederic (6) beat John Marino to the loose puck and collected the garbage while crashing the net to give the Bruins a, 1-0, lead 49 seconds into the afternoon.
Smith (17) had the only assist on Frederic’s goal.
Boston extended their lead to two-goals when Haula (15) sent a pass to the slot intended for Taylor Hall, but the puck deflected off of Marcus Pettersson’s skates and into the twine instead.
Reilly (12) had the only assist on Haula’s goal and the B’s led, 2-0, at 2:01 of the first period.
Late in the opening frame, Mike Matheson cut a rut to the penalty box for holding at 15:30, but Boston wasn’t able to convert on the ensuing power play and fell to 0-for-24 (0-for-19 without Pastrnak) on the skater advantage in their last six games.
Heading into the first intermission, the Bruins led, 2-0, on the scoreboard and, 11-6, in shots on goal.
Boston also held the advantage in blocked shots (4-1), hits (7-5) and faceoff win percentage (52-48), while Pittsburgh led in takeaways (1-0) after the first period.
The two clubs had three giveaways each entering the middle frame, while the Bruins were 0-for-1 on the power play and the Penguins had yet to see time on the skater advantage Saturday.
Danton Heinen (17) continued his revenge tour against Boston with a shot that fluttered and floated its way over Swayman’s glove side and into the back of the net– cutting the Bruins’ lead in half, 2-1, in the process.
Teddy Blueger (16) and Brock McGinn (8) tallied the assists on Heinen’s goal at 5:38 of the second period as Heinen set a new career-high in goals in 71 games– surpassing his previous career-best (16 goals in 77 games) set in 2017-18 with Boston.
Minutes later, Nick Foligno hooked Jake Guentzel and cut a rut to the sin bin at 9:33, but the Penguins were unable to convert on the ensuing power play.
Pittsburgh’s second chance on the skater advantage went by the wayside when McAvoy tripped Sidney Crosby at 11:44 as both teams struggled to get things going on the power play.
Through 40 minutes of action, the B’s held a, 2-1, lead on the scoreboard despite being outshot by the Pens, 9-5, in the second period alone.
Boston held the advantage in total shots on goal, however, 16-15, and led in blocked shots (8-3), while Pittsburgh led in takeaways (2-1), giveaways (5-3), hits (9-8) and faceoff win% (53-47).
The Penguins were 0-for-2 on the power play, while the Bruins were 0-for-1 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame.
Crosby slashed Frederic at 4:52 of the third period and presented Boston with their final power play opportunity of the night, but the B’s failed to convert on the skater advantage– falling to 0-for-25 on the power play in their last six games as a result.
A few minutes later, Reilly tripped Crosby at 7:09 of the third period and the Penguins went on the power play.
Pittsburgh failed to get anything going on the advantage, however.
With 2:06 remaining in the action, Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker.
Despite using their timeout after a stoppage with 1:14 left in the game, the Pens couldn’t force overtime as the seconds ticked down and Curtis Lazar went for a casual skate down the length of the ice killing time and keeping the puck out of his own zone so Boston could get one last line change on the ice.
At the final horn, the Bruins had won, 2-1, and finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal, 29-24, including a, 13-9, advantage in the third period alone.
The B’s left their own ice leading in blocked shots (10-6), while the Penguins left TD Garden leading in giveaways (8-3), hits (12-9) and faceoff win% (55-45).
Pittsburgh went 0-for-3 on the power play, while Boston went 0-for-2 on the skater advantage Saturday afternoon.
For the 14th time in 16 years, the Bruins clinched a playoff berth, while the Penguins fell to 2-5-1 in their last eight games.
The B’s improved to 34-9-2 (16-5-1 at home) when scoring first, 26-5-1 (13-3-0 at home) when leading after the first period and 29-1-3 (13-1-1 at home) when leading after the second period this season.
Pittsburgh fell to 11-18-8 (6-9-4 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 5-10-5 (3-6-3 on the road) when trailing after one and 5-19-3 (2-9-2 on the road) when trailing after two periods in 2021-22.
The Bruins hit the road for a pair of games in St. Louis and Pittsburgh next Tuesday (April 19th) and Thursday (April 21st), respectively, before returning home to host the New York Rangers next Saturday (April 23rd) on ABC.
Boston heads to Montréal on April 24th before hosting Florida (April 26th) and Buffalo (April 28th) prior to their regular season finale in Toronto on April 29th.