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Boston Pushes Penguins Out of Playoff Spot, 6-4



The Pittsburgh Penguins’ run of games in which they collect at least one point ended Saturday night.

It’s possible that their hopes of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs did, too.

Oh, the Penguins are still alive, at least mathematically, but their 6-4 loss to Boston at PPG Paints Arena knocked them out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff field and stripped them of the ability to control their fate in the playoff race.

They have been hurdled by Washington, Detroit and Philadelphia, all of which have one more point than the Penguins’ 86. The Penguins, Capitals and Red Wings have two games remaining, while the Flyers have one.

While the Penguins also have a chance to finish third in the Metropolitan Division, that would require them winning both of their remaining games, including a victory in regulation in the regular-season finale on Long Island Wednesday, and the New York Islanders failing to earn a point in either of their final two games.

Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic started his 11th consecutive game after going 7-0-3 in the previous 10, but didn’t finish this one.

Mike Sullivan replaced him with Tristan Jarry at 11:35 of the second period, after Boston had scored on three of its first 16 shots.

The Penguins, who had scored on one of 19 power plays during their previous seven games, got a chance with the extra man when Bruins center Morgan Geekie was called for cross-checking Rickard Rakell at 7:52 of the opening period. The Bruins’ league-best penalty-kill limited the Penguins to one shot while Geekie was in the penalty box.

Despite running up a 13-5 advantage in shots and commensurate edge in play by the time Evgeni Malkin was penalized for slashing at 15:51, the Penguins nearly fell behind with less than three minutes to go before intermission, as Bruins winger David Pastrnak backhanded a rebound off the right post.

Pastrnak again came within inches of putting Boston in front 3 1/2 minutes into the second period, when he lashed a slap shot from the slot that eluded Nedeljkovic but slammed off the right post.

The Bruins finally opened the scoring at 8:08, as Jake DeBrusk poked a puck between Nedeljkovic’s legs for his first point in eight games.

It didn’t take long for Boston to double its lead.

Pavel Zacha made it 2-0 14 seconds after DeBrusk’s goal. Nedeljkovic gave up a big rebound on a Matt Grzelcyk shot and Zacha promptly threw it into the net.

Although the game easily could have gotten away from the Pittsburgh Penguins at that point, Bryan Rust got them back within a goal at 10:27. Rust drove to the net and steered a feed from Drew O’Connor, who was near the right dot, past Bruins goal Linus Ullmark.

Sidney Crosby got the second assist on that goal, which was Rust’s career-high 28th of the season.

The Bruins countered almost immediately, however, as Kevin Shattenkirk took a feed from Pastrnak, who was below the Penguins’ goal line, and threw a shot past Nedeljkovic from above the right dot at 11:35.

That goal prompted Mike Sullivan to make the goalie switch, but the early returns on that move were not encouraging.

Brad Marchand scored on the Bruins’ first shot against Jarry, skating unimpeded from the right circle to the net before putting a shot between Jarry’s legs at 14:54, while Boston was killing a tripping minor to Jesper Boqvist.

It was the 12th shorthanded goal the Penguins have allowed this season.

They did, though, break even on that man-advantage, as Michael Bunting set up by the left side of the Boston crease and put in a feed from Malkin for his 19th of the season.

The second assist went to Penguins defenseman Erik Karlsson, who was playing in his 1,000th career game.

Drew O’Connor further revived the Penguins with a shorthanded goal at 4:32 of the second, as he fought past Marchand and beat Ullmark on the glove side for his 16th. Lars Eller got the only assist on the goal, which was scored 48 seconds after Marcus Pettersson was assessed a tripping minor.

Karlsson tripped Pastrnak at 7:08, and while the Penguins again managed to stifle the Boston power play. Geekie restored Boston’s two-goal advantage by beating Jarry from the inner edge of the right circle at 14:10.

Former Penguins forward Danton Heinen sealed the outcome by scoring into an empty net at 17:13, although Malkin got that one back at 18:39, with a goal initially credited to Bunting.

After the game, the Pittsburgh Penguins called off the practice that had been scheduled for Sunday at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.