It was a collision of Stanley Cup contenders. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been stacking wins, as have the Boston Bruins. The teams ground each other to a scoreless first 40 minutes until Penguins winger Jake Guentzel received a couple of good passes and roofed a wrister early in the third period.
Guentzel (21) finally broke the scoreless tie after defenseman Brian Dumoulin kept the puck in the offensive zone and made a between the legs pass to Sidney Crosby, who fed Guentzel for the only goal of the game.
“It’s been a while for a goal, definitely feels good to score, just helping the team anyway I can,” Guentzel said. “Just a huge performance by our team and Tristan(Jarry).”
The Penguins locked it down in the third period. Guentzel also drew a high-sticking penalty in the final minutes to preserve the Penguins’ advantage, and the showdown win at PPG Paints Arena.
The win shrank the Penguins’ magic number to four points, pending the New York Rangers game vs. the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday evening. A New York loss in regulation would shrink the number to just two points for the Penguins to clinch their 15th consecutive postseason appearance.
The Penguins lead the fourth-place Boston Bruins by seven points. The Penguins also leaped over the Washington Capitals by one point for first place in the MassMutual East Division, but have played one more game.
The prime matchup of the playoff-bound teams is always top-line centers Crosby vs. the Bruins Patrice Bergeron, who was not a guarantee to play. Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidey didn’t decide until after warmups, but Bergeron played and matched against Crosby.
“It’s fun. You know the offensive abilities they have,” Guentzel said. “Every time you play against them you know you have to be at your best. It’s a challenge for our line to see how we match up against them.”
The teams seemed to realize they could meet in the NHL playoffs in just a few weeks. The style was tight checking and responsible. Neither team put a skate out of place, but the Penguins did create a few turnovers and scoring chances.
In fact, neither team had a power play until Guentzel drew the penalty in the final two minutes.
The first period had the effort, but not the excitement. Each side clung to their responsibilities before wildly gallivanting around trying to score. The shots were dead even, 10-10, but the chances were decidedly in the Penguins’ favor (9-5). However, the Penguins lacked a second chance, and rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman saw every shot, including Kasperi Kapanen’s chance from the slot.
“It was very tight checking. Their forwards were above our forwards a lot of the game and the same thing with ours,” Brian Dumoulin said. “There wasn’t much room out there. And we had to try to create some plays and make some time for ourselves by supporting the puck. It was a playoff feel.”
It was a defensive slog throughout the first 20 minutes, and that defensive stalemate continued through the second period, but the Penguins certainly applied pressure to break it.
The Penguins dominated most of the second period. Hard cycle play and a few chances on the rush nearly put the Penguins on the scoreboard. Jason Zucker had a few Grade-A chances as Jeff Carter, and Jared McCann set up the Penguins winger.
Carter’s speed out of his own zone created a few breakouts, but neither team could convert. The Penguins outshot Boston 11-8 in the second period, but it didn’t seem that close. The Penguins had 10 scoring chances, compared to only four for Boston.
According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the two-period scoring chance tally was 19-9 in the Pittsburgh Penguins favor. The high-danger chances were 7-1 for the Penguins, too.
But…it was 0-0, and the Penguins failed to get that second chance that lit the lamp. The few times Boston challenged, Tristan Jarry was on top of his crease. Jarry made 30 saves for the shutout win.
Kasperi Kapanen led all players with five shots on goal. McCann and Zach Aston-Reese led the Penguins with five hits, too.
PHN’s 3 Stars:
3. Jason Zucker
His second straight outstanding game. He had the best chances of the game and the Carter line was the Pittsburgh Penguins best.
2. Tristan Jarry
Shutout win. Jarry made the saves he had to make, including diving on a couple of loose pucks.
1. Jeff Carter
He was the Penguins best forward. When Boston strangled the offense out of the game, Carter’s speed out of his own zone and created offensive chancs. Carter also bulldozed the front of his own net on occassion too.