For the third time this season, the Boston Bruins blew a three-goal lead and lost, 4-3, on Sunday– this time to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
Matt Murray (15-6-4 record, 2.84 goals against average, .900 save percentage in 27 games played) made 34 saves on 37 shots against for a .919 SV% in the win for the Pens.
B’s goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (11-6-6, 2.49 GAA, .918 SV% in 23 games played) stopped 18 out of 22 shots faced for a .918 SV% in the loss.
Boston fell to 28-10-12 (68 points), but remained in command of the Atlantic Division. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh improved to 31-13-5 (65 points) and maintained their 2nd place status in the Metropolitan Division.
The Bruins also fell to 12-8-3 on the road this season and dropped to 2-1-0 in the season series against the Penguins (won, 6-4, at Boston on Nov. 4th, won, 4-1, at Boston on Jan. 16th and lost, 4-3, at Pittsburgh on Jan. 19th).
The Bruins were without the services of Kevan Miller (knee), Connor Clifton (upper body), Tuukka Rask (concussion) and David Krejci (upper body) on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
Miller has yet to make his season debut, while Clifton and Krejci are considered “day-to-day”. Rask, on the other hand, remains on the injured reserve since sustaining a concussion in Columbus on Jan. 14th.
B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made no changes to his lineup from Thursday night’s, 4-1, win over the Penguins in Boston, but Bruins General Manager, Don Sweeney, made a couple minor transactions.
First, Sweeney placed David Backes on waivers for the purpose of assignment to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Friday. Backes had one goal and two assists (three points) in 16 games with Boston this season and cleared waivers on Saturday.
The Bruins saved about $1.075 million in cap space as a result of the transaction.
Finally, Sweeney made paper transactions over the course of Friday and Saturday assigning Dan Vladar to Providence and recalling Maxime Lagace on an emergency basis before reassigning Lagace and calling up Vladar on an emergency basis ahead of Sunday’s matinee.
Vladar once again served as the backup goaltender for Halak against Pittsburgh.
Steven Kampfer and Anton Blidh were the only healthy scratches for Boston on Sunday.
Shortly after puck drop, Patrice Bergeron (21) waltzed into the attacking zone and fired a shot through Murray’s five-hole after Brad Marchand connected on a pass with Bergeron.
Bergeron’s goal gave Boston the, 1-0, lead 11 seconds into the first period and was assisted by Marchand (44) and David Pastrnak (33).
Less than two minutes later, Anders Bjork (8) sniped a shot over Murray’s glove into the top-corner of the twine to make it, 2-0, for the Bruins at 2:02 of the first period.
Charlie Coyle (17) and Jake DeBrusk (14) notched the assists on Bjork’s goal as the B’s scored two goals in a span of 1:51.
Murray received a “Bronx cheer” from his home crowd after stopping an ensuing dump-in by Boston and was nearly spotless until late in the first period when Pastrnak (37) spun and threw a puck towards the net hoping to connect on a pass to Marchand, but instead deflected the puck off of Jack Johnson and behind the Penguins goaltender.
Pastrnak’s goal was unassisted and gave Boston a three-goal lead, 3-0, at 15:07 of the first period.
About 90 seconds later, the Pens responded and showed a sign of life when Sidney Crosby sent a pass from behind the net to Dominik Simon (6) for a one-timed shot from the goal line that beat Halak on the glove side– cutting into Boston’s lead and putting Pittsburgh on the scoreboard, 3-1.
Crosby (16) and Patric Hornqvist (8) tallied the assists on Simon’s goal at 16:34.
Almost two minutes later, Teddy Blueger was sent to the penalty box for hooking against Brandon Carlo and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the afternoon at 18:23.
Boston didn’t convert on the ensuing power play, which spilled over into the second period.
After one period in Pittsburgh, the Bruins led the Penguins, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 13-6, in shots on goal.
The B’s also held the advantage in takeaways (1-0), hits (12-11) and faceoff win percentage (72-28), while the Pens led in blocked shots (8-3) and giveaways (3-0).
Pittsburgh had yet to see time on the skater advantage, while Boston was 0/1 on the power play heading into the first intermission.
Early in the middle frame, Marchand turned the puck over to the Penguins– giving Kris Letang a free puck that he sent off the endboards for Crosby to scoop up and send between his legs to Blueger (7) for the goal that cut Boston’s lead to one.
Crosby (17) and Letang (21) had the assists on Blueger’s goal 33 seconds into the second period and the Pens trailed, 3-2.
Despite amassing five shot attempts on the power play, the Bruins failed to record a shot on goal while on the advantage.
Midway through the second period, Chris Wagner was penalized for interference at 12:09 and presented Pittsburgh with their first power play of the afternoon.
Less than a minute later, Letang and Marchand got tangled up and received matching roughing minors at 13:00 of the second period, but Pittsburgh’s 5-on-4 advantage was unchanged.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins still led the Penguins, 3-2, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 23-18– despite being outshot by the Pens, 12-10, in the second period alone.
Pittsburgh held the advantage in blocked shots (13-5) and giveaways (8-1), while Boston led in takeaways (4-2), hits (24-22) and faceoff win% (58-42).
Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the final frame.
Just 20 seconds into the third period, Letang was sent to the sin bin for elbowing Marchand, but instead of capitalizing on the ensuing power play, Boston’s special teams was powerless and allowed a shorthanded goal against.
Johnson (3) blasted a shot from the point and beat Halak under the blocker on the short side while the Bruins defense looked on and watched it unfold as Bergeron had to draw back and defend alongside Torey Krug.
Brandon Tanev (12) had the only assist on Johnson’s goal at 1:41 of the third period and the Penguins tied it, 3-3.
Midway through the third, despite Boston doing everything they could to slip another puck past Murray, Pittsburgh made the most of their opportunities as Bryan Rust (21) sent home a one-timer goal over Halak’s blocker while Halak was lost and the B’s defense was out of position.
Evgeni Malkin (35) forced the initial turnover by Charlie McAvoy and sent the pass to Rust for the only assist on the game-winning goal as the Penguins led, 4-3, at 12:35 of the third period.
With 2:19 remaining in regulation Cassidy pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Matt Grzelcyk received a tripping infraction at 19:04.
Despite using his timeout with 55.5 seconds left in the game, Cassidy’s crew couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone and struggled to free Halak from his crease for an extra skater in the dying dozen seconds or so as the final horn sounded and the Penguins had completed the comeback.
At the end of the afternoon, Pittsburgh had won, 4-3, despite trailing in shots on goal, 37-22– including a, 14-4, advantage for Boston in the third period alone.
The Pens finished the game leading in blocked shots (22-7), giveaways (12-3) and hits (37-28), while the Bruins led in faceoff win% (58-42).
Both teams went 0/2 on the power play on Sunday.
Boston fell to 18-7-8 when scoring the game’s first goal, 17-5-3 when leading after the first period and 15-1-6 when leading after two periods this season.
The B’s have won six out of their last ten games against Pittsburgh, but are on a six-game losing streak at PPG Paints Arena.
The Bruins fell to 200-2-6 when leading by at least three goals since 2010-11.
Boston returns home for their last game prior to the All-Star break next Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Bruins resume play on Friday, Jan. 31st in Winnipeg thereafter.