PITTSBURGH — The Igloo stands no more, the decades-long home of the Penguins broken to bits and delivered to the dustbin for a state-of-the-art arena right across the street. But with neither an Igloo nor a genuine penguin within thousands of miles, this city remains a very chilly place for the Bruins.
Staked to a pair of first-period goals, the top-of-the-conference Penguins ripped off their ninth straight win Sunday, edging the Bruins, 2-1, despite mustering a season-low 18 shots on net. Sidney Crosby and ex-Northeastern Husky Joe Vitale potted the goals, and for the next two periods the Bruins were turned back on a total of 21 shots, unable to come up with anything more than ice shavings and empty deposit slips against backup Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun.
But on a day when Irish eyes are always meant to smile, the Bruins may have come up with some truly good Gaelic fortune — not to have lost top center David Krejci to what initially appeared possibly to be a leg fracture.
Krejci was felled by a sizzling Johnny Boychuk slapper with just over five minutes remaining in the third period and was left writhing in pain in front of the Penguins net. Helped to a standing position by teammates after a couple of minutes, he eventually made his way to the dressing room and was not made available to the media after the loss. According to coach Claude Julien, he will be in Winnipeg for Tuesday night’s game against the Jets, and the ’11 Stanley Cup champs remain hopeful he’ll be able to play.
Nothing, however, could change the outcome of the Black-and-Gold’s fifth loss of the season. Both clubs were tired, forced to play their third game in four days. Both clubs were sloppy and loose, which can be entertaining, provided pucks go in the net. Overall, however, it was an afternoon that had both clubs generating few true scoring chances and displaying a remarkable lack of finish.
Boston’s best last chance to salvage at least a point came with 6:46 to go in the third on a Tyler Seguin wraparound. Seguin, who recorded Boston’s only goal of the day in the first period, came out from behind the left post and delivered the puck to the crease. It zipped almost straight along the goal line, all 4 feet of it, and then bled directly out of the crease and harm’s way. From scud to dud.
“Yeah, I watched the replay, it didn’t go off of anything,’’ said Seguin, hoping a ricochet or eager defensive swipe by a Pittsburgh stick would deliver his 11th goal of the season. “It went right through. You’d like to see a bounce there, right? Also, they had a guy coming back, so maybe it hits off him — a split second later and maybe it would have gone in. But . . . ’’
The Penguins twice this season scraped together only 22 shots on net. The 18 total left them with an 18 percent discount off that low. Vitale’s goal came on their 10th and final shot of the first period and they had only eight more all day (only three in the third), all of which couldn’t have had a national TV audience thinking the show was much better than a Sunday afternoon infomercial for easy-snap food bowls or magical vibrating weight loss treadmills.
“We just couldn’t get the next goal we needed,’’ noted Julien, who characterized the day as “typical’’ playoff-like hockey. “I thought we played hard. I am not disappointed in the effort.’’
Crosby, the league’s leading scorer (13-35—48), started the Penguins on their way at 12:06 of the first when he sniped in a short-range wrister from the slot. The play began with Pascal Dupuis filching the puck from Zdeno Chara behind the net and then Dupuis feeding to Chris Kunitz (the league’s No. 2 scorer) in the left-wing circle. Milan Lucic failed to cut off a Kunitz cross-slot feed and the sharp-eyed Crosby rifled his 13th of the season past Tuukka Rask.
“I was probably a little flat-footed on that,’’ said Rask, his record falling to 14-3-3. “In a perfect world, I move side to side in time to get it. But I lost my footing a little bit.’’
The Bruins were back with the equalizer at 16:38 with Seguin, their own sharpshooter, notching his 10th. Boychuk tore off a shot from above the right wing circle and it ricocheted stage left (circle), where the well-positioned Seguin (five goals in the last seven games), smacked it directly to the top left corner.
But with only 32 seconds left in the period, the hard-working Vitale broke the deadlock, popping the puck to the top right corner on Rask as the winger down near the right faceoff dot. Rask first failed to glove a Craig Adams shot, in part because of a deflection off the Boston defense, leaving the loose puck for Vitale to gobble up and knock home for his first goal this season.
“Yeah, totally got deflected on me,’’ said Rask, noting how the Adams shot was lined up to be center of the net, then shifted toward the right post, and the goalie’s glove [left] hand. “It got me in the palm first [before it dropped to Vitale] and I couldn’t get back in position in time. Tough bounce.’’
Ultimately, a familiar outcome, a second loss to the Penguins here in six days. If Boston’s road to the Cup runs through this chilly place, the Bruins will have to find a way to warm up their hands.Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.