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Better Effort, Same Result for Penguins in 5-1 Loss to Bruins



The Pittsburgh Penguins’ season was threatening to morph from a major disappointment into a flat-out dumpster fire.

They had lost four of the previous five games and had usually looked pretty bad in the process. Like the 60-minute self-immolation that was their 6-0 loss to Washington at PPG Paints Arena Thursday.

Well, the good news for the Penguins is that they competed hard throughout their 5-1 defeat by Boston at TD Garden Saturday, as evidenced by the 39-23 edge in shots.

Or maybe that’s actually the bad news, since it showed that even something close to their best effort isn’t nearly enough to hang with one of the NHL’s better teams.

Of course, it’s tough to win any game when you can’t score a goal, and the Penguins (28-26-8) went 112 minutes, 58 without one before Kris Letang beat Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark with a slapshot from the left point at 2:51 of the third period to whittle Boston’s lead to 3-1.

His goal was their first since Reilly Smith scored at 9:53 of the third period of their 5-3 victory over Columbus Tuesday.

The Penguins, coming off arguably their most wretched performance of the season — not that there’s a shortage of contenders for that distinction — in that loss to Washington, got a strong start against Boston.

They might have played more good hockey on the first shift than they did in the entire game against the Capitals, and kept play in the Bruins’ end for much of the first few minutes.

The Penguins were credited with five of the first seven shots in the game, with their most dangerous coming when Rickard Rakell sprung Michael Bunting behind the Boston defense about 3 1/2 minutes after the opening faceoff. Bunting, acquired from Carolina in the Jake Guentzel deal, was unable to beat Ullmark, who made a good glove save.

Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic countered with a quality stop of his own a bit less than three minutes after Ullmark’s save on Bunting, as he denied Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm from between the left circle and the crease.

The Penguins got the only power play in the period when Bruins winger Brad Marchand tripped Kris Letang at 18:46.

Neither team scored while Marchand was in the penalty box, which probably counts as a win for the Penguins, since they had given up five shorthanded goals in the previous 10 games.

The Bruins had elevated their play as the opening period progressed, and took a 1-0 lead when David Pastrnak beat Nedeljkovic with a slapshot from the slot at 2:26 of the second for his 40th of the season.

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman John Ludvig, a healthy scratch for the previous nine games, slid back onto the No. 3 pairing, filling the spot opened by the trade that sent Chad Ruhwedel to the New York Rangers.

The long layoff showed in his play, though, and Ludvig picked up a minor for holding Marchand at 5:46. The Penguins were able to kill that penalty.

Rakell was sent off for high-sticking Charlie Coyle at 11:31, and Boston made the most of that chance when Pavel Zacha set up at the right side of the crease and chipped a Morgan Geekie pass off Nedeljkovic’s left shoulder and into the net at 12:48.

Before Zacha scored, Lars Eller and Noel Acciari had a 2-on-1 break while the Penguins were trying to kill Rakell’s penalty, only to have Eller’s shot hit the crossbar behind Ullmark.

Any comeback hopes the Penguins might have been harboring effectively were snuffed when Marchand, who didn’t have a goal in his previous eight games, stuck a close-range backhander under the crossbar at 18:25 to make it 3-0. Marchand scored after the Penguins were guilty of a sluggish line change.

Letang spoiled Ullmark’s shutout bid early in the third with his eighth of the season. Sidney Crosby, who had failed to crack the scoresheet in the previous three games, picked up the lone assist.

The Penguins had the better of play through most of the first half of the period, but an ill-considered pass by Marcus Pettersson allowed Boston to regain its three-goal advantage.

Jake DeBrusk capped the sequence that began with Pettersson’s turnover by beating Nedeljkovic from inside the right circle at 9:36.

Zacha rubbed it in at 15:33, putting a shot from in front of the crease off Nedeljkovic’s left pad and into the net to close out the scoring.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will return home to face Edmonton Sunday at 1:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena. The Oilers, who are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss in Buffalo Saturday, mauled them, 6-1, at Rogers Place last Sunday.