Home Pittsburgh Sports College Basketball Pens edge Bruins 2-1 for ninth straight

Pens edge Bruins 2-1 for ninth straight

The Penguins continued their run of impressive defensive play, getting goals from Sidney Crosby and Joe Vitale–and solid goaltending from Tomas Vokoun–to win their ninth straight, topping the Boston Bruins 2-1 on St. Patrick’s Day in Pittsburgh.

The Pens remained perfect in March with their ninth straight win and seventh in a row at home. Only the Chicago Blackhawks have won more consecutive games this season, capturing 11 straight from Feb. 15 to March 6.

The Penguins struck first when Sidney Crosby scored his 13th of the year, assisted by linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. Pittsburgh has now gone 13 consecutive games with at least one member of the top line scoring a goal.

“You always want to get a good start,” said Crosby. “They’re comfortable playing a tight game so if we can get a lead it’s helpful.”

Boston’s play picked up after the Crosby goal. Tyler Seguin tied it with 3:22 left, slamming in a deflection off a blocked shot into a wide open net.

The Pens fourth line restored order–and the Pittsburgh lead–with a strong shift, capped off when Joe Vitale buried the rebound of a Craig Adams shot. Vitale’s first of the year gave the Pens a 2-1 lead after one.

“It’s been different guys who have stepped up every game,” said Crosby. “Joey V got a big goal for us at the end of the first period there, and Vukey’s playing great. It seems like it’s been different guys.”

The Penguins took the ice in the second period without top defenseman Kris Letang, who suffered a lower-body injury late in the opening period. Letang, who entered Sunday leading all NHL defensemen in scoring, did not return.

Boston controlled much of the second period, outshooting the Penguins 9-5.

The Bruins surge continued into the third as the Pens tried to maintain the slim one-goal margin. Boston put nine shots on net in the opening 10 minutes of the period, but for the most part the Penguins minimized traffic in front of Vokoun and the veteran net-minder was up to the task.

The Penguins defense, minus Letang, clamped down over the final 10 minutes. Boston managed just three shots on goal in that span, although there was a scary moment when Vokoun misplayed a rebound and gave the puck away to Seguin, who nearly tied the game on a wrap-around.

Boston outshot Pittsburgh 21-8 the final two periods.

“In Kris’s absence those two periods they had the advantage in shots and zone time,” admitted head coach Dan Bylsma. “But I thought our D did a great job of alleviating pressure and going back and getting the puck out.”

Pittsburgh improved to 13-0 when leading after two periods.

It’s no coincidence that the Penguins nine-game winning streak coincides with the team playing their best defensive hockey of the shortened season.

“These last bunch of games, we don’t give up two-on-ones, breakaways, no wide open empty net goals,” said Vokoun. “Ever since we started talking about that after that game in Philly (a 5-4 Penguins win on March 7) we’ve been really responsible in our own end and our forwards have been back-checking hard and making smart plays with the puck.”

Bylsma also acknowledged the forwards’ part in the improved team defense.

“Our team defense has been a focus for us, and it’s everybody,” said Bylsma. “The responsibility of our forward position in the offensive zone is a key responsibility for us, and if they’re tracking back it gives our defense a chance to play.

“But a bigger part of it for our team is how we execute and manage the puck,” Bylsma continued. “That’s been a big factor for our team and that’s everybody.”

The penalty-killing, a weakness throughout most of the season, has picked up during the winning streak as well. Pittsburgh killed penalties to Brooks Orpik in the first and Crosby in the second, and have now killed off 11 of their past 12 shorthanded chances over the past five games.

The Penguins were again without center Evgeni Malkin, who missed his fifth game after suffering an upper-body injury against Toronto March 9. Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo were the other scratches.

The Pens return to action on Tuesday when they host the Washington Capitals.

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