PITTSBURGH — Death by Hockey East.
Former Northeastern star Zach Aston-Reese scored twice, including a key shorthander later in the second, and ex-University of New Hampshire tender Casey DeSmith faced 51 shots (a season-high for Boston), pacing the Penguins to a 5-3 win over the Bruins in front of a sellout 18,549 Friday night here at the PPG Paints Arena.
The Bruins, who had won their previous three games, were led by goals from Brandon Carlo (his first since his rookie season), Chris Wagner, and David Krejci.
But after Krejci’s goal finally pulled the Bruins even, 3-3, with 8:02 gone in the second, the Penguins snapped the tie like dry kindling less than three minutes later when Sidney Crosby beat Krejci on a faceoff in Boston’s end, leading to a Kris Letang shot that Jake Guentzel tipped by Jaro Halak for the 4-3 lead.
“The way we came back, I felt the momentum was on our side,” said Krejci. “Tough break, you know, I lost the defensive zone faceoff and it’s in the back of the net — a momentum killer.”
DeSmith, 27, has turned into the Pens best goalie this season, and he made at least a half-dozen brilliant stops in his collection of 48 saves. His quick glove robbed Brad Marchand of a doorstep backhander in the first period, and he made repeated pad stops throughout the night, flashing his legs on repeated Boston short-range attempts.
“He was a good goalie,” conceded a frustrated Krejci. “But I thought our scoring chances were A [grade] scoring chances, especially in the first period. But . . . that’s how it goes sometimes. Again, like I said, we come back in the third period, we are feeling good, lose the faceoff in the D-zone and it’s hard to come back twice against a good team like this.”
Wagner (1-1—2) kicked off the Bruins’ third-period mini-rally at 7:08, ripping in a one-timer off a Charlie McAvoy dish to cut the lead to 3-2. Only 54 seconds later, the Pens a Keystone Kops fire drill in their own end, Krejci knocked home the equalizer when he followed David Pastrnak to the net and knocked home a free puck after Pastrnak’s doorstep attempt rang off the crossbar.
Earlier, the Bruins were playing their best all night late in the second, had trimmed the Pens lead to 2-1, and then saw their mojo collapse through a trap door when Aston-Reese bolted down the ice with Riley Sheahan and converted Sheahan’s dish for the shorthander. Pens, 3-1, and the comeback Bruins looked deflated.
“It was at the time — sure felt that way,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, noting the loss of momentum at 3-1. “They just outworked us there for a puck on the wall. A couple of our guys probably could have put out a fire and Charlie [McAvoy] tries to keep a puck aive there and guys have to help him out . . . end of the day, we overcame that, but unfortunately not a lot of puck luck around their net and then an unfortunate deflection for them to get the winning goal.”
Pittsburgh moved to the 1-0 lead with only 2:12 remaining in the first, with Derek Grant potting his second of the season with help from Matt Cullen.
Ex-proper Bostonian Phil Kessel jumped it to 2-0 at the 1:56 mark of the second, sniping in a one-time wrister from low in the left wing circle off a delicious dish from center Evgeni Malkin. Malkin first faked a slapper, then opted for his long diagonal feed, with Kessel slipping in behind coverage from forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Colby Cave.
The Bruins finally put the puck behind Smith, who left UNH in 2014 after his junior season, with 8:07 left in the second — Carlo knocking one home for the first time since his rookie season, March 4, 2017. Wagner, with dogged work around the Pittsburgh cage, lost his grip on the puck, forcing it to squib high into the right wing circle. The oncoming Carlo stepped right into his one-timer, a blast that ripped high into the left side of the net.
“Been a long while,” said Carlo. “But I feel the way I am starting to put the puck to the net a little bit more and the opportunities were coming for me to shoot the puck tonight, especially . . . I thought it was going to come soon.”
It took 21 shots on DeSmith, but finally the Bruins had their goal — and the momentum — on the Carlo strike. They appeared poised to tie it up when Guentzel was whistled off at 17:22 for hauling down Pastrnak. But 1:39 later, Aston-Reese raced down the ice in tandem with Sheahan and potted the first shorthander against the Bruins this season.
Now it’s back to work on Sunday with the Sabres in town, followed by a visit to Montreal to face the Canadiens there on Monday night. The Bruins hadn’t put more than 50 on net since landing 53 on the Leafs net on Oct 24, 2005.
“He played a heckuva game,” said McAvoy, another proud son of Hockey East from BU, crediting DeSmith. “A lot of times I had my hands in the air because I thought we scored, but turned out he made the save — so I guess good for him, even if it sucks right now.”