PITTSBURGH — After rolling out a 22-year-old Tuukka Rask impersonator two days before, the Bruins had the genuine article between the pipes.
Better news: The rest of the group on Tuesday looked like themselves.
David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Taylor Hall provided the goals, Rask stopped 25 of 26 shots, and the Bruins ended their five-game road trip with an emphatic, 3-1 decision over the Penguins.
The Bruins (28-14-6), blanked by these Penguins in a stellar Jeremy Swayman start Sunday, responded with two ignited forward lines, more excellent goaltending, and hard-charging, committed work from everyone else.
They also kept their edge on the Rangers (26-18-6), winners over the Sabres, for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East. They denied the Penguins (32-15-3), who had won four in a row, a chance to punch the division’s first ticket.
“A lot to like from everybody tonight,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Our top guys did the scoring. Our bottom guys did a lot of the grunt work . . . It’s a good formula for us.”
These were the dangerous Bruins, the fast and physical Bruins, the ones that would give the Penguins, Capitals, or Islanders fits in a playoff series. Skill, strength, saves: They had it all working Tuesday.
“We addressed some things before the game, where we were in the standings,” Krejci said. “We stuck to the game plan for the most part . . . We’re a good team when guys do what they’re good at.”
A major part of the plan: Get to the net, in a hurry. After recording two high-danger (slot, net-front) shot attempts in Sunday’s 1-0 loss, the Bruins had eight Tuesday, according to Natural Stat Trick. All of Boston’s goals were on the rush, and all of them were scored in the middle of the ice.
Two of them will serve as intermission highlight-reel fodder at TD Garden, when the Bruins return there Thursday against the Sabres (7 p.m.). They came from a pair of linemates that have found something special in the last two weeks.
Krejci opened the scoring with a strike at 18:10 of the second, using all of his reach to dangle around defenseman Mike Matheson before beating Tristan Jarry, low glove, with a backhander in the slot. It was a gorgeous finish from Krejci, now with seven goals and 25 assists in 44 games (5-4—9 in nine games with Hall and Craig Smith). It was important for their mood, Cassidy said, given they hadn’t scored in five periods in the Steel City. It was also the second assist in his last two games for the netminder, whose outlet led to Charlie McAvoy’s brilliant lead feed to Krejci.
“I don’t think they pay me to score points,” mused Rask. “Guess I got a streak going, two games. I’ll keep that going.”
On another drive up the ice, Krejci left the puck for Hall, who created perhaps his finest moment in Black and Gold.
The former MVP scored a goal that would have fit in with his 2018 highlight film. At 12:18 of the third, Hall cut toward the middle, saucered a self-pass over Sidney Crosby’s stick, and ripped a shot over Jarry’s blocker.
How’s your confidence now?
Hall, who arrived here just hoping to fit in, has a 4-3—7 line in nine games. He has used his speed to affect the play on nearly every shift, closing quickly on the puck and busting out of the zone. And yeah, he can make the puck dance, just like his center.
“Sometimes you’ve got to beat guys 1 on 1 in this league. You’ve got to pick your spots,” Cassidy said. “Kudos to them.”
Marchand and David Pastrnak buzz-sawed their way to the 2-0 goal at 9:11 of the third, Marchand jamming home a third-chance rebound after the pair barrelled into the zone. Marchand, booed every time he touched the puck, heard 4,672 fans at their loudest after his 26th goal of the season was announced. He moved into a tie for third place in goals, and fifth in points (58).
The top six — Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Pastrnak, Hall-Krejci-Smith — were dominant. They combined for 35 shot attempts at 5 on 5, and allowed nine. They outshot the Penguins, 20-5. The Penguins’ top defense pair of Brian Dumoulin (outshot, 15-3) and Kris Letang (19-5) were torched all night.
The bottom six, sans Jake DeBrusk (healthy scratch), pulled their weight. Trent Frederic earned a third-line promotion after the first. Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly, the right wing and center on the third line, connected for a pair of slick passing plays on the same shift in the second period, Both were skating hard.
In full control, Rask stopped 17 shots in the first two periods, seven of them on three Bruin penalty kills. He showed his poise, holding his edges at the top of his crease and calmly shrugging off a blistering snapshot from an uncovered Jared McCann. He showed his athleticism, pushing swiftly to deny Zach Aston-Reese in one Penguin flurry. On a Zoom call afterward, he was wearing a large ice wrap on his upper right leg but said he felt OK.
Rask had a shutout going until the last 2:21, when a bad change on D let resurgent veteran Jeff Carter load up a heavy, far-side slapper from the right circle. It had little effect on the outcome.
“Today,” Rask said, “is a great example of a team effort.”