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Pastrnak’s Hat Trick Dooms Penguins, 4-3



David Pastrnak

The Pittsburgh Penguins got a good look at a Stanley Cup-caliber team Saturday.

And it wasn’t in a mirror.

Glance at one of those, and they’d see a club that is far from certain of getting a chance to participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs, let alone capable of making a serious run at the franchise’s sixth championship.

Their 4-3 loss to Boston at PPG Paints Arena left the Penguins one point ahead of Florida in the fight for the second wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference playoff field, pending the outcome of the Panthers’ game in Columbus Saturday night.

Should the Penguins manage to qualify for the postseason, they likely will be pitted against Boston — already assured of finishing with the best record in the NHL — in Round 1. The Bruins swept the regular-season series, with all of their victories by one goal, including one in overtime.

This one was covered with the fingerprints of winger David Pastrnak, who scored the Bruins’ final three goals.

It also was decided largely by special teams, as the Bruins scored on two of three power plays, while the Penguins were 0-for-6 with the extra man, including one power play as the final minute of regulation drained away.

The Penguins got what could have been a major break before the game when Boston coach Jim Montgomery made it known that first-line center Patrice Bergeron would have the day off to rest and recover from sundry minor injuries.

Bergeron has 16 goals and 28 assists in 59 career games against the Penguins and has earned five Selke trophies as the NHL’s top defensive forward.

Pavel Zacha took Bergeron’s place between Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk on the Bruins’ No. 1 line.

Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who has taken a number of costly late-game penalties of late, took an early one against Boston, as he roughed David Krejci at 4:21 of the opening period.

The Penguins did a nice job of containing the Boston power play … until defenseman Charlie McAvoy worked free in the left circle, and threw a shot into a mostly open net at 6:20, one second before Ruhwedel was to return.

That was an ominous development for the Pittsburgh Penguins, considering that Boston began the day 38-1-3 when taking a 1-0 lead, but they tied the game just 73 seconds later.

Bryan Rust, who had just one goal in his previous 14 games, got a deft backhand feed from Sidney Crosby and flipped a forehander past Boston goalie Jeremy Swayman.

Crosby’s assist was his first point in four games, and Rust’s goal was the only shot Swayman faced in the first 12:50 of play. Mark Friedman got the second assist on that goal, Rust’s 17th.

The Penguins were guilty of another potentially costly gaffe at 14:35, when P.O Joseph, who was under no pressure, launched a puck over the glass to pick up a delay-of-game minor, but the Penguins were able to fend off the Bruins’ power play, limiting it to two shots.

Jake Guentzel had a chance to give the Penguins a lead when he got a breakaway as the opening period was winding down, but Swayman stopped his shot and Guentzel threw the rebound wide of an open net with about 14 seconds to go.

Evgeni Malkin promptly completed the Penguins’ hat trick of needless penalties in the first period by taking a tripping minor with 3.9 seconds remaining before the intermission.

Once again, the Pittsburgh Penguins paid a steep price for a lapse in judgment and discipline, as Bruins winger David Pastrnak tipped a Dmitry Orlov feed past Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry at 1:41 of the second period.

Orlov picked off a Ruhwedel clearing attempt before tossing a backhander toward the Penguins’ net, where Pastrnak had established position. The goal was his 100th point of the season.

With just under eight minutes left in the second, Crosby sprung Guentzel down the right side with a long pass, but Swayman denied Guentzel on a breakaway for the second time in the game, and Rust was unable to convert the rebound.

The Penguins had a five-on-three power play for 45 seconds when DeBrusk (15:55) and Brandon Carlo (17:10) of the Bruins were penalized late in the period, but did not seriously threaten to score.

Rust evened the score again at 4:09 of the third. Swayman stopped Rust’s shot during a 2-on-1 break, only to have McAvoy slide backward into him, pushing him and the puck across the goal line.

The 2-2 tie didn’t last long, however, as Pastrnak scored his 55th of the season at 7:07, driving a slap shot past Jarry from the top of the right circle.

Guentzel finally got a measure of vengeance for his failed breakaway at 12:30, when he beat Swayman from above the hash marks, thanks in part to an excellent screen set by Crosby.

Boston challenged for goaltender interference, but the goal — Guentzel’s 35th — stood.

The Penguins were awarded a power play because of the Bruins’ failed challenge, but did not capitalize on it.

They also did not take advantage of a boarding minor assessed to Krejci at 15:12, and Pastrnak completed his hat trick by hammering the game-winner past Jarry from the slot at 17:34.

“It was a tough way to lose,” coach Mike Sullivan said.

Pastrnak actually gave the Penguins a final chance to salvage at least a point when he took a high-sticking minor in the final minute, but they couldn’t score.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will play the back end of their final set of games on consecutive days this season on Sunday at 6:08 p.m., when Philadelphia visits PPG Paints Arena.